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molah

2019-04-22 - Choice (LV) - Short Story - 3975 words

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Posted (edited)

Hey everyone,

A new short story. 3975 words this time.

Cheers

Edited by molah
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Reading through yours, but I'm at work so I can't devote active attention to it yet. I'll have a critique for you later today.

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Overall

So first off, the flow of the story was good and it certainly made me feel things! So connection with reader=check. 

Unfortunately, as you will see below, I had a number of very large issues with the protagonist. I found him to be, at best, deeply unlikable, and at worst, a murdering, child-stealing, narcissist. 

I think this could work as a short if it worked more like The Butterfly Effect, where there are increasingly problematic repercussions. It would also be nice if the man had a moment where he realized he was doing all of this for himself, and that he did not actually care about his wife (is he about to leave her at the beginning??) or his second daughter, so obsessed is he with the past. Basically, I'd like to suggest that if you leave the man as he is, that you have the narrative refute at every given opportunity and showcase that what he is doing is clearly a problem, and not born out  of 'love'.

As I go

It pains me to shut her feelings out, but I have to be strong. Just an FYI, this is a tone that will get me to drop a book in a hot minute. If the narrator is a guy, and he's not acknowledging feelings whilst being pined for by a girl...this trope is deeply overused and problematic. Men are capable of a full range of emotion. Let them show it.

- I reply irritated <-- dude is now irritated because girl has emotions and is showing them. This is my Marge Simpson face.

You know that's all gibberish to me. Because she has emotions and is also Not Very Smart

- pg 8: wait, why is N suddenly in the picture? I'm confused

- pg 9: oh I see, parallel timelines

Deep down I've always known that I'd be ready to do anything for my family. I just never thought I'd have to kill myself. I don't know. I mean, he's toying with his second daughter's life right from the beginning over his own obsession. So really, the move to kill himself thereby depriving his family of some level income (since he does not appear to be the primary caregiver to the child) is really just as selfish as basically every other thing he has done.

I try not to think of the suffering she and L have to be going through. WOW. This character has deep, deep problems

-... will have to live without me. Oh god! What'll A do without me? It'll break her. She barely managed to survive N's death, and only because I've been there for her. Who'll help her when I'm gone? Hopefully someone without narcissistic personality issues?

There's a hole burning in my chest where N should be, but I'll never risk losing my other girls again. If he's going to have a come to Jesus moment, I'd like it to be a lot more drawn out and impactful. Because right now I don't feel like he has actually learned anything, or changed. He made a series of Really Terrible Choices and through basically magic, has no repercussions. He screwed with multiple lives, murdered someone, stole a child, and left his wife, all so he could have the perfect life. The narrative does not counter any of that and in fact, makes it seem like that is alright since everything ended well. For me, that is a large problem.

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I was having trouble formulating my thought for this, but I think @kais has clarified it well:

46 minutes ago, kais said:

I had a number of very large issues with the protagonist. I found him to be, at best, deeply unlikable, and at worst, a murdering, child-stealing, narcissist. 

The concept for this is very interesting, but I'd like some more hand-wavium to at least try to address the time travel element. Right now it's pretty shaky in how the knots can keep separate timelines apart and why the energy requirements are tied to the machine itself. I don't need hard science behind it, just a technobabble explanation because it's popping me out of the story as it is.

The MC's obsession with the past is pretty overwhelming. It would be nice if the wife could at least acknowledge this rather than just being a sobbing  mess all the time.

Some of the scene breaks are pretty confusing. It would be helpful especially later on to somehow label which one is which so the reader can follow along better.

Again, I like the concept, but I think a little more character development and some polishing over how the time machine works will go a long way.

 

Notes While Reading:

pg 1: "I can only think it's a death sentence. The final nail in N coffin. My hands start shaking."
--a bit confused as to who N is compared to A, and why the husband immmediately thinks of her. Willing to wait a little to find out.

pg 2: "I wonder what she'd be like."
--now assuming N is some sort of child lost to time travel hijinks?

PG 5: "Thanks to the anchor I can alter the past and still come back to this very moment."
--Okaaay...this sounds questionable.

pg 6/7: "Ordinarily, this would change the future - and probably would've erased L from ever existing - if it wasn't for the anchor."
--I sort of want some explanation for this, even if it's technobabble.

pg 8: "She's not in her crib."
--sort of confused what happened between the previous section and this one. In the previous one, L is alive. In this one, N is alive, but not sure how.

pg 9: "I only realized this when I noticed a second line had appeared on the time graph."
--well, that's sort of what I expected to happen. That's why I was wondering how he thought he could change things without changing the timeline.

pg 10: "I pondered how I should proceed while looking at the single line on the time graph."
--I think this is here to tell us that this version doesn't know about the split timeline, but it comes across as authorial. Why would he mention that it's a single line?

pg 10: "She wouldn't either, if she'd just been shot by herself."
--Eh? How does he know this?

pg 11: "The new anchor ties it all together, fixing our small family to the present"
--uh, didn't he learn from the last time?

pg 11: "One with two knots - the two anchors I created - and another two branching off from the first."
--Confused. I'm having trouble telling which is which.

pg 12: "The energy consumption of the anchors is through the roof."
--So the machine is generating the energy to keep the timelines together? But he had to boot it up?

pg 13: "If I removed the second anchor manually, before the first one fails, I should have a small window of opportunity to act."
--relatively confused

pg 14: "There's a hole burning in my chest..."
--Wait, what happened?

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Thanks for taking the time to provide me feedback! :)

I kind of knew I had an Author Problem, but I didn't expect to be so far off the mark! Sheesh... back to the drawing table :D 

Your reaction and insight has been very helpful to me. Obviously, I failed to properly convey the inner thought process of the main character, because he's not the monster he appears to be - just very stricken with grief and trying to make things right (in a misguided way). I also didn't want A to come off as stupid etc. 

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14 minutes ago, molah said:

I kind of knew I had an Author Problem

Bah, we all have Author Problems. That's why we're here instead of the NYT bestseller's list. :P

Oh, to dream that dream...

(also, if you hang around long enough you can watch one of my first drafts go through and eviscerate as you will. They're...not pretty.)

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38 minutes ago, kais said:

(also, if you hang around long enough you can watch one of my first drafts go through and eviscerate as you will. They're...not pretty.)

Can confirm. In related news, have you seen how much the chapters I've been submitting have been torn up? ;-)

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STANDARD DISCLAIMER: For demographic information, keep in mind that I am a white male nearing his thirties, married, with two young children, and come from a background of being LDS, conservative, and with a long history of chronic depression, so these things may color what I say during review. I try to be as open-minded and unbiased as possible.

Sorry for the late reply, we had to take a drive I wasn't anticipating and things were a bit busy this morning.

Overall, it feels like this is more of a proof of concept, rather than a planned out story--it feels very Time Machine-y and Steins;Gate-y with a little bit of Looper thrown in for good measure, especially with the way it ends. The main character needs a lot of work--as it stands (and as a father), I can understand where he's coming from, but the absence he feels never really seems to come through--it's like the I Am Legend movie, where you have a character that is very motivated to pursue a goal, but never really justifies that motivation.

That said, the concept is interesting, and I like the whole "placing anchors" in an attempt to solidify and unify timelines. That's interesting--though I think you need a little more depth in how that works. The concept of the machine itself is also very interesting, and the story definitely has a kind of A Machine for Pigs vibe in that regard (if you're not a gamer, that's a game where a man builds a machine to accomplish something fantastic, and in so doing kind of ruins everything).

Writing-wise, you fall into a lot of the same problems that are all too common with First-Person perspective, especially First-Person Present. As I mentioned in my critique for @Majestic Fox's short (and I feel I can say these things since the book I'm working on is in 1PP, though I know I have these same pitfalls) when you write in 1PP you have to be careful of "Acting Actions". These are phrases like "I say," "I try," "I feel," that break the immersion of the reader. This is especially common when doing dialogue, because while these "acting actions" help the reader understand who is doing what in 3P, in 1P they are often redundant, and can be alleviated with some showing, rather than telling.

Rather than telling us a phrase like

Quote

"My eyes seek hers and she nods"

(which in 3P "his eyes sought hers, and she nodded" would work well), a better way would be to describe the look in her eyes before she nods--something like

Quote

"a flicker of hope sparkles in her eyes, and she nods"

would carry the same effect you're going for, without breaking the reader out of the experience of the character.

Another thing that is really confusing about this piece is that you switch between timelines with no notice, and it makes very little sense, even after a reread. At times, the story reads like a journal, but at other times its a story--For example, this passage here:

Quote

In the end it wasn't 'any day now'. By the time I get the time anchor to work, Lena has already taken her first steps. My little baby is growing up so fast!

It's making me dizzy to think about how time slips through my fingers. It's moments like these when I feel most guilty about not having spent more time working on the anchor, but my girls needed me. The question that's been haunting me this past year pops into my mind again. How can I choose between the past and the future? It's not fair!

reads like a journal entry, rather than keeping in consistency with the overall tone and style.

Anyway, my point is that you have some good seeds here, but it definitely needs some more thorough development. For example, if the machine just manages the anchoring points, then how does he manage to jump back and forth in time? At one point you say "I'm back in the lab. Technically I never left, but I'm back in the time I anchored right before my jump." That in and of itself is confusing, because you never really describe the machine to us. Is it the machine that allows him to jump back and forth, as well as anchoring the timelines? Or does he have a device?

I also agree with many of @kais's points regarding your MC and his overall attitude. What he's doing should be disturbing him greatly, especially as things unravel. It's not just that reality would be unraveling, but that those things should have an impact on his memories, his wife's memories, his wife's personality, his living daughter's memories, his living daughter's personality, etc. Time travel is tricky, because there are so many day-to-day factors that can be effected. And the changes aren't always significant--but changing the timeline should change things in the present--regardless if you're doing a unified timeline or a split timeline, each action has consequence, and changing one thing in the past might make a later choice different.

For example, a man gives his wife a toy fish as an inside joke over a dinner they had years after their first daughter dies. When she ends up living, however, maybe that dinner was a different meal, so the toy he gives his wife is a frog instead. Or an apple. Understand what I'm getting at?

19 hours ago, molah said:

Obviously, I failed to properly convey the inner thought process of the main character, because he's not the monster he appears to be - just very stricken with grief and trying to make things right (in a misguided way). I also didn't want A to come off as stupid etc.

Finally, I want to address this line. I think you do a decent job as communicating the inner thought process--the problem isn't the thought process, it's that you don't communicate very much empathy, grief, or other emotion on his part--it's just a mad hunger for a singular objective, and that's a large part of what makes him come across so callous and cruel. His wife is always the emotional one, she's the one that mourns the baby, while he tries to shut out his emotions and fix the problem. It's a very outdated and problematic thought process.

Grief is a powerful motivator! Have him dwell on it. Have it fuel his drive. Have him remember what it was like to hold that stillborn baby, remember the breakdown of his hopes, remember the hurt, the anguish--all of these things are powerful feelings, and will help absorb your reader into the story. Often, people who throw themselves into work out of grief often do so to avoid feeling that grief, which from your statement is clearly not the case here--so if his grief is what is motivating this hell-bent objective of his, then show him feeling it. Do some research on couples who lose children--it's a terrible, terrible thing that often ends even the most solid of relationships. It's not something that a couple easily recovers from, and usually if they do recover, it is because the death pulls them together, rather than driving them apart. Often times, when a death happens and one person throws themselves into an objective like this, the other spouse feels so alone and isolated, so hurt that the one person that should have been there with them is gone...

Anyway, I'm not trying to tear you apart. I actually really liked this piece. I've always been a big fan of time travel stories, because seeing how things progress is part of what's fascinating. And the concept is super interesting--I'd like to see this develop into a full-fledged piece. That's part of why I might be harsh--because I care. If I didn't care...well, I wouldn't have written all of this. :D

Good luck. I look forward to the next draft.

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Sorry, for the double-post, but this thought was significant enough that I wanted to make sure it was distinct from my critique. Please bear in mind I'm not trying to tell you how to write your story, just trying to give an idea for creative fuel--what you do is up to you.

An idea that crossed my mind when rereading, is that...what if they were both scientists? What if they worked on this together, but the new pregnancy kept her from continuing with it?

Hopefully that's enough of a seed to be helpful, while not suggesting a change that would catastrophically change the spirit of your piece. If it is...ignore it, move on, do you. I'm just here to help.

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Hey Alderant,

Thanks for the feedback. I was looking forward to it, knowing that you're a father. :) 

When writing short stories, I always have troubles finding the middle ground between revealing too much (=boring) and having the readers clueless (=confusing). I'd like them to think to understand what's going on, and to have a bit of mystery. In this case, it's clear that I didn't explain the time travelling concepts clearly enough, and glossed over some details.

Interesting suggestion. I'll keep that in mind when I'm going to work on this story again. :) 

Thanks again, I appreciate the time you took to help me out!

Cheers,

Helge

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58 minutes ago, Alderant said:

what if they were both scientists? What if they worked on this together, but the new pregnancy kept her from continuing with it?

Agree. This would go a long way to helping, though you'd still need to change the tone of the husband so that he actually listens to and takes his wife seriously.

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Like @kais, this story made me feel things -- but they were not particularly good things, unfortunately. 

I definitely had all of the issues with the protagonist that @kais had -- I found both him and the wife to be significantly problematic.

From a technical standpoint, the work is solid. The only part that threw me was the change to past tense, and that only because it felt to me to be haphazardly applied. I couldn't figure out the logic behind it.  Otherwise, I was able to follow all of the time jumps with relative ease. That's no small feat! 

I wish I could have enjoyed this piece more than I did. 

 

Here are my "as I go" comments:

"but I have to be strong" -- this trope is so old, so done-to-death that I see it being parodied when I watch classic shows from the '40s and '50s. It makes me feel immediately bored with the piece and unwilling to keep reading. Suppressing emotions is not strong, it's avoidance. In some situations it can be necessary temporarily, but here it just seems like he's hiding from his wife. Plus, I feel like it limits the amount of depth the character "being strong" can show to the reader. This early in the piece, that doesn't bode well to me. 

The wife herself seems to be a stereotype of the hysterical woman, and once again, this idea that women are less emotionally stable, and prone to "useless" bouts of emotion or hysterics is a harmful trope that has both real world consequences and very unfortunate implications. This is not a character to me, it's a strawman fallacy to show that only the man has the "strength" to do what is "necessary" (neither of which are strong, nor necessary to me).  Her characterization once again makes me feel bored and uninterested in what is happening to either one of them.

"gibberish" -- and now she's the trope of women who are incapable of understanding science, too? I had to put the story down for a moment at this point, to be perfectly honest. The number of overused, outdated, frankly harmful stereotypes going on here made me feel too disgusted to keep reading. 

 So, after this point, I was just trying to finish and I don't have any more as-I-go notes. The protagonist does not come off as the least bit sympathetic to me. I feel like he is a narcissist, and despite saying over and over how much he is doing things "for his girls," all he really cares about is himself. "His girls" aren't even really human to him. They're his possessions: no different from his house or his television. He was denied something he thought he deserved and that appears to me to be his only motivation. 

I also feel like this piece does a disservice to couples who have lost a child to stillbirth or miscarriage. I have friends who have suffered through this, and I couldn't help thinking about them as I read. This story appears to me to play into broad, flat, hurtful stereotypes about grief and losing a child that are so far removed from what I've seen of the actual experience to almost be talking about something else entirely. There is a wealth of support and information out on the internet about stillbirth, miscarriage, and grief, and I definitely second the call to add some research to this for any subsequent drafts.


 

 

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Thanks for taking the time to read my story and provide feedback @industrialistDragon. :) 

18 hours ago, industrialistDragon said:

I also feel like this piece does a disservice to couples who have lost a child to stillbirth or miscarriage. I have friends who have suffered through this, and I couldn't help thinking about them as I read. This story appears to me to play into broad, flat, hurtful stereotypes about grief and losing a child that are so far removed from what I've seen of the actual experience to almost be talking about something else entirely. There is a wealth of support and information out on the internet about stillbirth, miscarriage, and grief, and I definitely second the call to add some research to this for any subsequent drafts.

My heart goes out to your friends. I'm sorry for their loss.

This has come up before and I feel like I need to address this. The story is actually based on a first hand experience. Grief is something very personal and not the same for everyone. I only show a few glimpses of the whole process because it's not the main topic here - it's the motivator.

Given that the main character comes off as cold and heartless, I'll have to do a better job to convey where he is with his grief and what happened in the past, the pregnancy and the first year of L's life. The main character actually spent almost all of L's first year with his family - but again, that's not part of the main topic. So I only mention it in a passing phrase.

Quote

The wife herself seems to be a stereotype of the hysterical woman, and once again, this idea that women are less emotionally stable, and prone to "useless" bouts of emotion or hysterics is a harmful trope that has both real world consequences and very unfortunate implications. This is not a character to me, it's a strawman fallacy to show that only the man has the "strength" to do what is "necessary" (neither of which are strong, nor necessary to me).  Her characterization once again makes me feel bored and uninterested in what is happening to either one of them.

"gibberish" -- and now she's the trope of women who are incapable of understanding science, too? I had to put the story down for a moment at this point, to be perfectly honest. The number of overused, outdated, frankly harmful stereotypes going on here made me feel too disgusted to keep reading. 

This as well has come up a few times already. I feel this is only an issue because of history - it seems like it would be less of an issue if I reversed the genders. Again, this is based on first hand experience. The wife is neither hysterical nor stupid, but suffering from anxiety and depression. And she's not interested in technical details - which doesn't mean she's stupid. It's just a matter of priorities and interest. And because she's only a side character to this story I'm not showing all this. 

Apart from all the other things I have to fix, maybe I should really reverse the genders - just to avoid the tropes and avoid being misinterpreted on this topic, which is (currently) quite sensitive.

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18 hours ago, industrialistDragon said:

From a technical standpoint, the work is solid. The only part that threw me was the change to past tense, and that only because it felt to me to be haphazardly applied. I couldn't figure out the logic behind it.  Otherwise, I was able to follow all of the time jumps with relative ease. That's no small feat! 

I'm curious. Was it clear to you that past tense = viewpoint of the past version of the MC and present tense = viewpoint of the present version of the MC?

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I'm sorry for your loss. 

3 hours ago, molah said:

I'll have to do a better job to convey where he is with his grief and what happened in the past, the pregnancy and the first year of L's life.

More context would be beneficial, I think. Tropes and stereotypes sneak in when readers have to fill in the gaps in a story with their own interpretations. It's fine sometimes, but I feel like this story really needs the specificity of author-supplied context. 

3 hours ago, molah said:

maybe I should really reverse the genders

That could really be interesting! But also, as kais mentioned, having the two spouses interact with each other as equals and full partners will help combat any negative tropes that are in the work. Right now, it seems to me that the woman does little more than nag, cry, and provide an opening for the husband to explain things to the reader. Swapping the genders, but leaving the interactions the same will still end up with the similar issues.

3 hours ago, molah said:

Was it clear to you that past tense = viewpoint of the past version of the MC and present tense = viewpoint of the present version of the MC?

I did not pick up on this at all, unfortunately. I thought it was one person talking the whole time.

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Hi @molah , really pleased that you're back. Apologies for the delay in my critique.

Title - Not massively enthused by the title. It's rather bland. I critiqued (in person!!) a story at the Glasgow SF Writers' Circle (so, so awesome... the circle, not the story...) the title of which was 'Fusion'. I mean, meh. I think a more memorable title goes a long way to getting the reader hyped up more for the story. I'm looking at my shelves and I'm seeing The Immortal ThroneGolden WitchbreedSwords Against WizardryThe Fracas FactorTomorrow Might be Different. Okay, these are novels, but I think shorts deserve evocative titles too.

Page 1 

- I like the name Amb. That engages me at the start. So does the first line, which creates instant tension.

- Hmm. I'm trouble by the vibe here. The implication that she's using pregnancy to keep the man, and as a way to hold their relationship together, for one thing, it's doomed to failure. For another, it's cliche and an unwelcome one at that. It makes the story feel like a through back to a less enlightened time.

- "I can only think it's a death sentence" - Err, what now? This is taking me somewhere I'm not sure I want to go.

Page 2

- Oh, is her name Amb? That's a bit odd. It sounds like a surname. I'm thinking now of her as Amber-lea (Christian name), but spelled like a surname.

- "mourning what we lost and afraid of what is to come" - In the sense of have lost or had lost? The grammar confuses the meaning for me. Also, at this point in a 4000 word story, I need to understand better what is going on. I want a clearer indication at this point of what king of story I'm reading.

- "I wonder what she'd be like" - I think this means 'what she would have been like'? The grammar again is confusing the message for me.

- At this point I'm just not convinced about how her sudden pregnancy has apparently (superficially) healed their relationship. Why was he going to leave? Because they lost a child? Because should could not get pregnant? Those are the only clues I've got to go on, but I don't really know what emotion drove him to (almost) leave, and I don't know what it is he might be suppressing.

Page 3

- "History didn't repeat itself" - So, N died in childbirth? I wish I was clearer on that, unless it's part of the mystery of the story.

- "I'm going to make it right" - Confused, both in terms of what's happening, and what has happened, but also a bit by the emotional tone, the emotional choices of the m/c. He picks the moment of the actual birth to come out with this? Also, I thought him placing the child on the mother's chest "so she can bond with her mother" - Sounded like him allowing it, which is distasteful in a paternalistic way.

- "make true on my promise" - 'make good', I would say.

- Okay: time machine. I love a time story, so this will be interesting. I'm not convinced about waiting this late to reveal it though. If you revealed it up front, on the first page, it would add tension to what follows. They could argue about whether he should go back (assuming she knows what he's doing).

- I like the anchor idea. It's a convincing term, and there's no real need for you to explain it. Also, I like how you use the child's development stage(s) to show time passing in the story. That's clever: it's a very neat form of shorthand, as most people know (or have an idea) how long those things take.

Page 4 

- "my girls needed me" - See, I'm trying to reconcile this emotion with him ready to leave his wife before. For me, it's not consistent.

- "It's now frozen in time and we can always come back to it" - I'm fine with this high concept stuff in relation to time. There's some real tension in this moment. I like that.

Page 5 

- "her face confused" - I would argue that her face is not confused. Her features convey the confusion that she is feeling. For her features to be confused, in my assessment, her nose would be where one of her eyes was, her mouth where her nose is, etc. Think Picasso.

- "I found a way to change the past without affecting the future" - I like this spin on the time travel trope. This so often is the fly in the ointment, and I like how you've tackled that in this story. I'm interested in where this goes, because those words are just portentous as all heck, and begging for him to be proved wrong!!

Page 6

- Okay, confused. So, in the world of the guy who gets out of bed, is N alive? That is what's implied by the traveller, who effectively says that something happens to her. If I'm right about this, I think you need to clearly show the reader that N is alive in this scenario, so that we know we're in a different time from the POV at the start of the story.

- "should not have been stillborn" - But how can they control that? I'm not aware that there's any way to influence that, is there? To prevent it, even if he can go back to that moment before? Who will believe him if he says to the doctors, my daughter will be stillborn, and what can they do about it anyway?

Page 7

- "If my predictions are correct..." - Lol.

- "A family without missing pieces" - missing piece (singular) surely?

- "Sorry, but I got more work waiting for me" - I've got...

Page 8 

- "Amb black silhouette" - Amb's 

- "She's gone!" - When you set up the anchor thing, I really was hoping that this was going to be about more than just 'man goes back in time to change things for good, and ends up changing them for bad, or (unknowingly) causing the original problem that he went back to fix'.

Page 10

- "Going to the future and getting N back" - Eh? But if she's dead in this setting, he can only get her back by going backwards, surely?

- "I knew exactly when he visited to kidnap N" - Okay, just all over the place now. I can't keep track of this. It seems like now we're working with a scenario where he had gone back to before N's birth and prevented her from dying, but then another future self from the old timeline (in which she does not survive), has come back to kidnap her from the new timeline in which she does? I'm getting frustrated because I'm trying to work out what's going on, but it's like there are too many possibilities. So, my alternative is to try and sit back, not calculate what's happening and take satisfaction from the swirling confusion alone. I'm not good at that.

Page 11

- "when the second anchor fails" - Act, this is a bit frustrating. Just breaks? I hope there's a good reason for this, and it's not just a random event.

Page 12

- "my breath stocks" - stops?

- "when the results come back I go still" - this bothers me. It's out of POV, I think, and it's underwhelming. I want it to be 'I freeze'., or something like that.

Page 13

- "sustain the anchors had has increased over time" - I think present is more tense and urgent. Similarly "The more time had that has passed"

- I actually don't believe that Amb will be ruined without him at all. It sounds like he's been the source of all the stress in her life since L was born. His thought process here is quite conceited. She can't survive without me? From what I've seen of her in the background, I think there's every chance she'll be fine.

Page 14

- "I should have a small window of opportunity to act" - On the last page of the story, considering that it's a race against time, I don't want to be trying to guess or work out what he's doing. I want to know what it is he's going to attempt. Withholding stuff at this late stage does not seem fair to me.

Overall

On one level, I like where the story ends up, that it's all been for nothing. It seems to me though that it was a no brainer from the start. On the other level, the m/c's hubris perhaps deserves some punishment, but then in a sense he's already been punished by the death of N. He got his punishment in advance, which is sort of poetic.

Some of the gender notes are  to very contemporary. I think that might mean it would be difficult to sell the story in today's market. Does that make it a bad story? Not necessarily. I'm glad you shared it, and there is messages there that I think is are good ones. (Be thankful for what you have. Don't try and build a time machine, or if you do, don't use it.) I'm interested to read what the others make of this.

<R>

 

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On 22/04/2019 at 5:43 PM, kais said:

It would also be nice if the man had a moment where he realized he was doing all of this for himself, and that he did not actually care about his wife (is he about to leave her at the beginning??) or his second daughter, so obsessed is he with the past.

Yes, this is a much clearer way to express what I was feeling about the m/c.

On 22/04/2019 at 6:35 PM, Mandamon said:

It would be nice if the wife could at least acknowledge this rather than just being a sobbing  mess all the time.

Yes, I think the wife should be a stronger character. It would make the story longer, but a scene or two with her challenging his obsession would be good, and set up bigger stakes, like he could lose her by her walking out on him (with reasonable justification).

On 26/04/2019 at 3:42 AM, industrialistDragon said:

The only part that threw me was the change to past tense, and that only because it felt to me to be haphazardly applied. I couldn't figure out the logic behind it.

Agreed.

14 hours ago, molah said:

I'm curious. Was it clear to you that past tense = viewpoint of the past version of the MC and present tense = viewpoint of the present version of the MC?

Ah, I didn't pick that out.

11 hours ago, industrialistDragon said:
15 hours ago, molah said:

maybe I should really reverse the genders

That could really be interesting!

Honestly, I don't think that would work (for me). I think I would not be convinced that a mother would risk the life of her second child in an obsessive pursuit of the past.

It's a very interesting story, and I think it deserves an edit/rework which I'm sure would address some of the problems that we're finding. I took liked the pacing, and the overall arc that brought the guy to a place of humility, which is where he deserved to be at the end. I would like maybe another line or two at the end (or in the middle somewhere), where he recognises that he was a rust for considering leaving her. That remains hugely off-tone for me, even for a narcissistic obsessive.

<R>

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Thanks @Robinski for the detailed feedback! I'm glad to be back :)

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I haven't read through everyone else's comments yet, so here are my thoughts. 

Overall, I enjoyed reading this. I was engaged with the narrative and the character even though the mc did make me cringe a few times. I liked the voice, how it felt like I was in the mind of a person barely able to keep up with is own thoughts. However, there were a few points at which I got confused and felt the narrators growth was forced. 

Here are my thoughts. Some are problems. Some are things I observed that don't necessarily warrant a change if they reflect how you want readers to react. 

"I can't possibly trade one for another." So for some reason, the barebones almost non-existent visual description and minimally tagged dialogue had me thinking this was just contemporary. This line was when I realized I was in a time travel story. I was happy to realize it was a time travel story. I'm reading on my kindle with big font, so this migth feel further into the story to me on that device than it would in a word doc. 

"...what is to come" At this point, I'm not 100% sure how I feel about the style you chose. I want to see more of the people and setting, but I am also okay just being in this narrators  head without so many visual details.

"If my past self heeded my warning..." I almost missed that this was a POV change, but thankfully this line caught me. I know the narrators are all technically the same person, but throughout, I did struggle to keep them sorted out. I'm wondering if there is a way to shift the voice of each so they are more distinguishable. 

"...She is not in her crib." She was hysterical..." My confusion was growing a little here, but I was okay with that because I had the impression it would be cleared up soon.

"I know it all to well." So are there technically three people narrating now who are actually the same person from different points in time / timelines?

"...his visit confirmed my time machine worked" But he has N in this section. How did he have N if the machine didn't work yet? Now my confusion isn't just a temporary thing keeping me reading but a problem. 

"Oh god! What'll Amberly do without me?" Up to this point, I was overlooking the characters self-centered hubris and poor, sometimes downright cruel choices. I like reading from the POV of characters who aren't exactly "good" but this was my tipping point. It's one thing to be arrogant enough to mess with time and selfish enough to steal from your Doppelgänger. But for some reason, this guy also thinking he was the center of his wife and daughter's life, that they needed him so much, just made me not like and him and want the story to be over. It made me feel like he didn't really love or respect her. And from the story, it seems like he spends more time with his machines than family, so I wonder if they really need him at all. Maybe they would be better without him. 

It seemed like the scene the above quote came from was supposed to be part of where he learns his lesson and changes, but instead it made me really not like or care about this narrator. It also felt very rushed and very forced. Here the story goes from a narrator with racing thoughts to too rushed. 

I loved the last scene, but it didn't feel earned. 

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Reading through some of the other comments now. Going to quote and reply to ones that stand out. 

On 4/22/2019 at 0:43 PM, kais said:

I found him to be, at best, deeply unlikable, and at worst, a murdering, child-stealing, narcissist. 

Me too, but for most of it, that didn't stop me from wanting to keep reading. 

 

On 4/22/2019 at 0:43 PM, kais said:

It pains me to shut her feelings out, but I have to be strong. Just an FYI, this is a tone that will get me to drop a book in a hot minute. If the narrator is a guy, and he's not acknowledging feelings whilst being pined for by a girl...this trope is deeply overused and problematic. Men are capable of a full range of emotion. Let them show it.

I second this, though I admit, I wasn't really thinking when I read the opening, just floundering to figure out what kind of story I was reading, and picked up on this type trope later.

On 4/22/2019 at 0:43 PM, kais said:

There's a hole burning in my chest where N should be, but I'll never risk losing my other girls again. If he's going to have a come to Jesus moment, I'd like it to be a lot more drawn out and impactful. Because right now I don't feel like he has actually learned anything, or changed. He made a series of Really Terrible Choices and through basically magic, has no repercussions. He screwed with multiple lives, murdered someone, stole a child, and left his wife, all so he could have the perfect life. The narrative does not counter any of that and in fact, makes it seem like that is alright since everything ended well. For me, that is a large problem.

In a much more thoughtful and articulate way, Kais has pinpointed why I thought the ending felt "unearned."

On 4/22/2019 at 1:35 PM, Mandamon said:

The MC's obsession with the past is pretty overwhelming. It would be nice if the wife could at least acknowledge this rather than just being a sobbing  mess all the time.

The wife could be fleshed out a lot more, and if she was more developed, it could create potential for the mc to also be more developed through his interactions with her. 

On 4/22/2019 at 1:35 PM, Mandamon said:

Again, I like the concept, but I think a little more character development and some polishing over how the time machine works will go a long way.

 

Labels would help a lot.

On 4/26/2019 at 9:24 PM, industrialistDragon said:
On 4/26/2019 at 5:32 PM, molah said:

maybe I should really reverse the genders

That could really be interesting! But also, as kais mentioned, having the two spouses interact with each other as equals and full partners will help combat any negative tropes that are in the work. Right now, it seems to me that the woman does little more than nag, cry, and provide an opening for the husband to explain things to the reader. Swapping the genders, but leaving the interactions the same will still end up with the similar issues.

Yeah -- it really doesn't matter which spouse is which gender to me. If she is suffering from depression and anxiety, then try to show that in a more nuanced way. Make her stand out more as a character. She doesn't have to care about the science, but she can be more developed. 

Random thought. What about writing some of the scenes from her point of view? Structurally, I'm not sure it would actually work as part of the story. However, as an excercise, it might help you develop her more and make it easier to flesh out the version reader's see through the mc's eyes.

On 4/23/2019 at 0:31 PM, Alderant said:

don't communicate very much empathy, grief, or other emotion on his part--it's just a mad hunger for a singular objective, and that's a large part of what makes him come across so callous and cruel.

 Sounds right.

On 4/23/2019 at 0:31 PM, Alderant said:

so if his grief is what is motivating this hell-bent objective of his, then show him feeling it

This would help.

On 4/27/2019 at 8:36 AM, Robinski said:

(Be thankful for what you have. Don't try and build a time machine, or if you do, don't use it.)

This is what I took away too. 

I think it would mean a lot more if you worked more on the characters and conveying some of their emotions.

 

On 4/22/2019 at 5:30 PM, Mandamon said:

Can confirm. In related news, have you seen how much the chapters I've been submitting have been torn up? ;-)

Mine too. Some of mine have been very torn up. Yet I keep coming back for more, and think I'm getting to be a better writer for it. 

 

And on a final note, if/when you do revise this, I'd be happy to look at another draft.  

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Thanks for your feedback! :)

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