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JWerner

6/17/19—Greek Confederates Prologue 1—JWerner—4114 words (L, V, G)

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Posted (edited)

Hi all,

This is the prologue to my second novel (the title of which is tentative), which I finished a first draft of a few months ago. I plan on revising the characters and plot somewhat. I would describe this story as a YA sci-fi-fantasy western, and hopefully it will come across as less opaque than The Scarlet Saber.
 
Yes, this is prologue 1; there are two prologues. But let me reassure you that they're not supposed to be vague and esoteric. They're each supposed to show inciting incidents in the main characters' lives before a one-year time-skip. 
 
With that said, I hope you like it. And if not, please say so.
Edited by JWerner
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Posted (edited)

On 17/06/2019 at 4:48 AM, JWerner said:

YA sci-fi-fantasy western

Aw wtf? I just posted my comments to Alderant's submission in your thread! Apologies: senior moment on my part. I was wondering where the Western theme was :rolleyes:

Edited by Robinski
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The conflict between "Western" and "Ancient Greek" doesn't really work for me. I think because these are two cultures that have nothing to do with each other and you're just smashing them together. If it was like ancient Greece, and they acted similar to cowboys, that might be ok. But they are literally swearing by Zeus and talking about rustic schoolteachers and other western tropes while speaking in a frontier dialect. I keep getting thrown every time one or the other is referenced, because I can't tell where the setting is supposed to be. Is this an alternate history where Ancient Greece colonized America? Is it just a reinterpretation of how Greeks thought? I want something to act as a guide to the world, but I'm getting two conflicting guides at the same time.

The story however, I have little problem with. I'm interested in the Channels and in the relationship between J and Uncle D, and what will happen going forward. I'll reserve judgement until I read them, but I suspect if prologue 1 and 2 are a year before the main story, you could simply make them chapter 1 and 2 and avoid the questions about why you call them prologues.

Notes while reading:
pg 1: The first paragraph leans to purple prose. I had a little trouble getting through it to the story.

pg 1: "if there were outlaws with beer guts that could support a whole stack of books."
--I don't see any reason why there couldn't be.

pg 2: "lacquered wood with metal components welded on off from atop his horse’s rump."
--awkward

pg 4: there's a switch from "you" to "yer" somewhere in here. I'm not sure I'm convinced by the dialect yet.

pg 7: "I am the fear. Grrr"
--lol

pg 12: "Her recessive arm, her left"
--her what now?

The pace and tension of this were good, as was the story itself. I'm just having with the setting, but it's enough to throw me out.

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I don't think I've ever read one of these. I watched Cowboys and Aliens, does that count? Looking forward to this.

Okay, so comments:

(page 1)

- JV. Great western name. Certainly helps drop me into the setting and theme.

- First sentence is confusing on various levels. I imagine someone cooking a meal, but they're cooking a whole steer, which seems wrong. Who is Hel? Oh, wait, this is a deal steer in the sun? It's a complicated opening line when we don't know the setting. I think clarity is important in an opening line, and I don't think this has it.

- "...to keep far away from." - Big run-on sentence there. Hard to read. Suggest breaking into two.

- I really like the double alteration of the dirt. I think this a full-on descriptive style will suit the western setting, but the first line still lacks clarity.

- "hued with shades of red" - I confused this with 'hewed' because you were talking about rock, which often is described as having things hewed from it. Possible also because you've already described the colours of the setting.

- "to the man pot-bellied man" - typo.

- You refer to the steer as 'im and it very close together. Consistency.

- "if there were outlaws..." - why would there not be this type of outlaw? I imagine there would be plenty of them.

(page 2)

- "welded on off from atop his horse" - What the heck? Confused phrasing. That's amazing, four prepositions in a row? Are you shooting for a world record? ;) 

- "With a few flicks and clicks of locks and joints, he combined them into a r-b" - I like the tech references. They're not too heavy, just slipped in to give the suggestion of difference. Also, missing word here, I think.

- "big game" - I like it, the tone is good. I think you are handling the elements that make this world different very well. Not putting in too much so as to cause confusion. You don't have to explain annals things if you use them sparingly, and create curiosity in the reader rather than confusion.

- "tailing trail the other seven fed into" - awkward phrasing to read.

(page 3)

- "hiding behind the horizon in the distance" - that's where the horizon tends to be, this seemed redundant to me.

(page 4)

- "pinkie raised, his Adam’s apple bobbing furiously" - this is great description, really puts me in the moment.

- "serranos" - I don't know what this is.

- "for fear of her uncle..." - more good characterisation; well done.

- "Sort've Sorta would defeat the purpose, wouldn’t it" - This is not an abbreviation of 'Sort of', but is 'Sort have', which doesn't make sense, of course. The contraction of 'Sort of' that I've seen is 'Sorta'.

(page 5)

- "Whatcha want to do" - This was odd, to hear a major contraction then the full extended version of 'want to do' right next to each other. Then again 'Whatcha wanna do?' is pretty heavy on the contractions. Dunno.

- "worth ‘bout ten gold drachma" - for me, this is maid-and-butler. Her old uncle would know exactly how much the hide is worth, surely, so she's only saying this for the reader's benefit, making it sound very unconvincing. It's a just a matter of rewording to a form that someone might say to remind someone else who already knew the value of the hide. Something like 'Well, I reckon we can get the full ten for the hide, maybe more'

(page 6)

- "smart cookie" - It doesn't seem all that smart to me, seems fairly obvious thing to do, sell all the parts to people who can use them. I don't think she earns this compliment.

- "iron-edged ruler" - Youch!! Also, I'm not sure of J's age. She's at school so 14? I don't think she's more than 15 or 16. She talks pretty grown up.

- "quarrels off of his belt" - I know this form is US standard. To a Brit like me, it sounds terrible, awkward, unnecessary. In all seriousness, does nobody think that 'quarrels off his belt' flows better, sounds simpler and more elegant?

(page 7)

- "He smile at her" - typo.

- Is there no way that D can cover her from a distance? It strike me as odd that he would not try, but I guess I don't really know how capable J is.

- "pebbles pushes out" - typo.

- "I am the fear. Grrr." - Nice line: I like this thought, good bit of training and motivation.

- "slipped a quarrel" - I'm really surprised she hasn't loaded before now. She doesn't know where the thing is. I really think she needs to load before she goes in so she's ready to fire if the thing should surprise her.

(page 8)

- "was dead" - Excellent surprise, good solid mini-twist. Like this very much. You might have piled a bit more tension onto J's approach, which would have made this even more of a surprise and release of tension.

- "BK Rider" - I'm actually a bit disappointed in this particular aspect. It strikes me that this is a pretty much universal trope in new writers' work, that there is a mysterious/ outlawed/ famed/ feared/ revered group that someone (usually the MC) either belongs to, or wishes to belong to, and that is their goal, or a significant part of it. I'm not 100% sure that's what's happening here, but I think it might be. I think as a motivation, it's too easy, it's a bit low-hanging fruit. But maybe that's not what's going on here.

- "low Con" - If Old Front is all CAPS, should Low Fed not be too? I presume it's the name of a place or a language.

- "missy" - love it: puts me right in the Western setting.

(page 9)

- "He probably drank an Elixir" - Something I've more recently gained an appreciation of is specificity and certainty. Words like 'probably', 'might', 'maybe', etc. a vague and leave the reader in doubt. Having your character be more certain, more confident and having your narrative be specific is much more compelling and engaging for the reader. Even if you said 'must have drunk' here it would carry more energy than 'probably'.

- "slid off the side of the ridge" - QED, per my earlier comment about excluding 'of' from this form. This is much more compelling and immediate.

- "with pitying express" - I guess this means 'with a pitying expression'?

(page 10)

- I really don't believe you can use and pistol crossbow in close combat like this. I at least need to hear something about 'D pushed away from the rider and drew his bow' to believe that there is enough space and time. It's not like a hand gun, it's bulking and awkward, from what I've seen (never used or held one).

- "could drink up to two" - This is odd phrasing, because there are only two options, one or two. It's not much of a range. Up to ten, that's fine, there's a broad range, but I don't think 'up to' makes sense for only two. I think this limitation (which is good, it's important to shows the limits of magic, and have it cost the user) could be better phrased, more simply. Like 'it was a real risk to take another flask so soon after the first one, he could pass out or die'.

- "reflux" - LOL, Dear Zeus, that's awful. I've had some issues with the good, old-fashioned human version: this sounds horrendous!

- "clenched her fist in triumph" - but there is no triumph, the fight's still going on. This thought is totally premature. She should be helping, not cheering. Also, repetition of 'triumph' is awkward.

- "cracking blow punch across" - typo.

- You've used triumph three times now. Waaaaay too much. One is fine.

(page 11)

- I like the reverse you pulled in a moment of supposed triumph. It shows J's naivety apart from anything else. But still, too many instances of 'triumph'.

- "drank them before you got injured" - that made no sense to me, but, D would know that, and surely he would have drunk it before making his attack? There's an inconsistency here. Also, it would lead to massive overuse of healing draughts, surely, people drinking them just in case, and then they would not be able to drunk another channel, would they? There something inconsistent here, I think.

- "lay on the..." - Tense.

(page 12)

- "stood to her feet" - grammar: this ain't it.

- "downed all three at once" - This does not make any sense to me. We've been told that drinking two is a huge risk. This is more like committing suicide than doing something powerful. I'm just not convinced. Why not just drink two? Which we've been told is the limit? I'm not convinced her anger is hot enough to make her do this.

- "maybe twice" - this is too small a number for her not to know it exactly. It's either once or twice.

- "recessive arm" - what's this? Don't understand.

(page 13)

- "lopped off her forearm" - okay, good conflict! But, I'm assuming she drank the healing draught among the three, BUT, won't that return her to the state before she drank it, in which she had a wounded leg?

- "but in abated" - typo.

- "pushing him over the side of the cliff" - this bit is redundant, imo.

- "furnace for her rage" - I like it.

(page 14)

- "dripping off of her fist" - the rest of the world will thank you, believe me ;) Also, if you look at published works that have been professionally edited, how often do you see this form? I would say very, very, little, if at all.

- "her grief and terror exacerbated by the blood roaring in her ears" - This is excellent. YES, there is a cost to killing; YES, I feel her grief. Excellent emotion, totally conveying her pain and confusion.

- YES, and here comes the cost of using the magic, the cost of her victory. Very good, very satisfying. And the last line is spot on. It feels like a kind of closure, but I very much want to know what happens next.

Overall 

I really enjoyed this. There are some details that need work, I think, but overall I got a great sense of setting (there's always room for a tad more description though, using other senses, the heat, the sights: could perhaps have got a bit more sense of scale of the surrounding and the landscape). I thought the pacing was strong. There was very little exposition, but you still put might into that setting with small references that I didn't need to understand now, but am confident that I'll find out about later.

Very strong conflict, good action that wasn't boring, and you used it to show your 'magic' system in action instead of telling us how it worked (there was that one bit of maid-and-butler). 

I think this is a fair bit stronger than the Scar Sab in terms of the writing, and I'm very keen to read more. :) 

<R>

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Overall

Pacing wise it's fine and I'm interested enough in the western/greek crossover to read more. What I do think it needs is more stakes/buy in, because I don't know why I care about they hydra hunt. Why are they doing it? Are hydra a problem? Do they need money? Is this a coming of age thing? 

I'd also like more description, especially of the people. I have no idea what most look like other than Beer Belly. The final battle was fun and I liked the elixirs, although I'll caution that you're playing with a fridging trope, though you've reversed it, but just be aware that it's there (though not necessarily problematic since, again, reversed). 

If you're going to maybe pursue publication with this, I'd like to suggest Silver on the Road for an amazing western with dark magic, and then maybe a rewatch of the Battlestar Galactica reboot. I agree with @Mandamon that some more worldbuilding is needed to establish where we are. It reads maybe like the wild west but Greek mythos, but then sometimes feels like we are in Greece. I think a clear delineation, time stamp, and world stamp would go a long way.

I did enjoy it for the most part!

As I go

- that first paragraph is really adjective heavy

- pg 1: 'man pot-bellied man' typo

- pg 2: 'hades with that' feels forced and clunky

- pg 3: why was it coated with hemlock oil? What information does this provide? I'm confused

- pg 4: lot of god curses here, and it seems weird. From what I understand of Greek culture, people worshipped one or two, not the whole pantheon. So I'd assume that curses would be involved with the gods opposite the ones they worshipped (or the ones in conflict), not just randomly selected

- pg 7: did the Greeks care about using god names in vain? I think that's a Christianity thing

- pg 7: I'm not certain what the point is of killing this thing. I need a through line or stakes in order to get invested

- pg 9: rifle bow is a crossbow, is it not? Didn't they have those in ancient China? I don't think it's a wild west thing

- pg 13: ewwww but also cool the arm regrowing

- fascinating reverse fridging. 

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Over  all, I had much the same problems as @Mandamon. I didn't feel like the two cultures here meshed well, and was thrown out by the odd way the Greek elements in particular are being used. I also second @kais' recommendation for Silver on the Road, it's fantastic, and would also add to that just looking up "weird west" as a subgenre in general. It's had a bit of a resurgence recently. 

 

As-I-go:

"support a whole stack of books" -- What does this mean? If it's referencing strength, then i'm confused about why this is strong? I know scrawny-looking office ladies who can lift stacks of books. If it's supposed to imply he's intelligent, then I'm confused by the comparison. Why wouldn't he be intelligent? If it's because he looks like an outlaw, then again, there's the equation of being criminal or uncivilized with being inherently unintelligent and that's such a weird nonsensical stereotype to me. It's a little akin to the "she's not like other girls" trope, where in order to compliment one person, the compliment denigrates the rest of a group. And if it's neither of those things, I'm just lost. Is it a play on the other phrases that are references to a square, solid build? 

Isn't a rifle-bow just a crossbow? Repeating crossbows with magazines and auto-winching crossbow attachments exist already and have existed long prior to the Wild West times, so I'm a bit confused as to why these rifle-bow devices are being treated like they're special fantasy objects here.

Wait, she's in the Old West and she's concerned about underage drinking? Prior to Prohibition, there was no minimum drinking age in the US, anywhere. And outside of the US, I was under the impression that underage drinking wasn't as much of a taboo (or any taboo at all, depending on where/when you're talking about). Unless she's super young, like pre-adolescent, I'm really confused as to why she'd be worried about having tried alcohol, especially if she ended up not liking it. That's a pretty common kid thing I thought?

So, I do enjoy the western setting and feel of this piece, but the Greek parts feel really superficial to me. They are using the gods in a very modern vernacular and that's really disorienting. I'm unsure why the Greek names for certain items were included because of how separate and occasionally random they feel. If it was so that magical creatures could be included, then I'm wondering why the animals can't just have Greek-myth common names, since there's a long history of people naming animals after other things that they resemble. You might try reading some other "west with mythical animals" books to get a feel for how other authors have combated the issue.

She's seventeen? She feels much younger to me, maybe 14 or so. 

I did enjoy the action sequence and the magic reflux. It was very well described (yeek!) 

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Hi guys,

First off, thank you very much for critiques! I appreciate them muchly. Going forth into the edits and revisions, I will try to mesh the Old West vibes and Greek Mythology aspects better. @kais mentioned BSG, and while I don't have the time to re-watch the reboot, I'll keep that world in mind. Thank you all for the recommendations for Silver on the Road! I'll see if I can get my hands on it, but it might have to wait until I finish The Gentlemen Bastards

I will also try to put some more detail to make the world and characters more vivid. 

Couple points of clarification:

The rifle-bow is functionally a crossbow. Aesthetically, it's a Henry repeater combined with a crossbow, and can be assembled/disassembled in two pieces. It's long and narrow. I will try to describe it as such in revisions. 

The setting is supposed to be far into the future. Very far. There's magic (the Channels), technologically advanced bodily enhancements, hovercrafts, etc. I think the best way I can summarize the world is Firefly, but just on Earth. 

'Stack of books' is meant to imply the extent of Uncle D's gastric protrusion. In others words, he's got a considerable gut. 

Thank you all again!

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Catching up before reading this week's submission. Good start!

I want to point out that I didn't have any problem at all with the mixing of a western setting with ancient Greek mythology. I thought you did a good job blending the two. The only real critique I had was the amount of slang used felt a bit excessive.

Page by page comments are as I read:

1/2
- Sets the scene and tone well enough. I feel like just from this limited interaction I have a basic grasp of these two characters and what their life is like, though I'm assuming one of them (Uncle D) will probably be dead before the end of this prologue.
- So I don't like the name J. It was a cliche western name even before Toy Story. 

3
- A little confused as to how much of a threat the hydra is. It's dangerous but using a channel is overkill but J can do it on her own... I'm beginning to suspect it's just red herring to get these characters to the actual threat. Even so I'd like something more concrete with the hydra.

4
- "he downed the entirety of the flask, a pinkie raised" - I don't know what you were going for here but the pinkie raised thing got an literal LOL from me in a good way.
- "for fear of her uncle asking her how she knew what grain alcohol was like." - Kind of a weird tidbit considering the type of job they do, but I kinda like that D would have an issue with her drinking alcohol but not with her fighting monsters. I think it's something young people can related to.
- Smelling the dead cow is cool in world side effect of the magic/channels, but makes me think he doesn't use it very often? I feel like that's not a mistake you make twice.
- I like the glimpse of the magic system we get here.

5
- Nitpick: I want them to ride something cooler than horses considering this is a world where mythological creatures are real.

6
- Are you choosing names that are famously tied to western novels/movies on purpose? It's slightly distracting.
- Camel Rock? Like THE Camel Rock? I've been there before. I was sad when it lost it's nose. Does that mean these people are in Pojoque?
- I'm starting to get the "Old wise mentor showing his soft side before he dies" vibe for sure now.

7
- Yeah. I really want some more conflict between J and D. So far it's really just him acting out of character and J noticing, but I think this is really taking away from the characters. Does he know there's something more dangerous than the hydra out there?
- Since I'm 99.9% sure he's about to die, I'd personally rather see him and J acting normal.
- Okay. This is way bigger than real life Camel Rock.
- The growl--Grrr-sucks the tension out of the scene.

8
- "The hydra was dead..." - Cool twist. Well placed. Going back to what I said before about not knowing the threat level of the hydra works against you here, though. Could build early that hydra are very dangerous so this moment has more punch.
 

9
- "... trigger, the recoil sending her onto her backside and very nearly tumbling over the side of the ledge to the ground twenty feet below." - Wait does she even know how to this thing?
- Is it just me or is the BKR Randall Flagg?
- Wait. Your magic users are called Channelers? I liked the potions being called channels, but that's a little on the WOT nose.

10/11
- And D to the rescue. Decent fight scene followed by the death we all knew was coming.
- Why didn't D drink an elixir real fast before interfering? 

12/13/14
- "She downed all three down at once." - Oh dang that's cool!
- So from that moment forward all my comments are basically: "Cool!" No complaints about the final pages. Good ending. 

Overall:
- I think you have your pacing down and the world building was weird enough to keep me interested while being grounded enough that I never felt pushed out of the story.
- My biggest criticism is that I really felt like I had read this before. I knew every big beat pages before it happened. You can get away with this in YA sometimes because your audience hasn't read as much and/or doesn't care as much about such things, though.
- I do want to give special emphasis to Uncle D's character. You have a huge inciting incident with the BKR. Except leading up to this you have a smaller, inciting incident with D letting J take the lead. I thought maybe D knew what was coming which would've justified the double incitement, but it's obvious that he didn't know. So, that whole plot line starts working against itself because we never actually get to know the real D. Does any of this make sense? It's as if the whole J taking the lead sub-plot is only there to get J into the right place so D can sacrifice himself to save her. Yes, it is YA and you can probably get away with it, and I know we aren't supposed to do prescriptions, but I think it would be a much stronger opening if we see J and D on a normal day, with D being the dick J seems to think he is. That makes his sacrifice a] a little less predictable and b] carry more weight because you see his dickish nature was covering a heart that cared for her.

Alright, onto this week's submission! Once again, sorry about the late feedback.

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On 6/19/2019 at 3:46 AM, Robinski said:

Aw wtf? I just posted my comments to Alderant's submission in your thread! Apologies: senior moment on my part. I was wondering where the Western theme was :rolleyes:

I literally almost did this. I had all the questions about where the western was and where the YA characters were... then I realized I was in the wrong thread. 

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Alright, so now I read the correct story and comments. 

The concept is cool! I like weird west, and I like the idea of these "cowboy" type characters hunting mythological monsters. However, like @Mandamon and @industrialistDragon, I had a hard time accepting the characters swearing with Zeus and Hades, talking about towns named after ancient greek places, but still otherwise falling into all the classic western tropes. 

I'm not 100% sure how to explain why, but the voice felt more middle grade than YA. The first time I thought this was when the uncle was described as looking like a "typical outlaw," the second place was when I the mc used the word posterior instead of a word that begins with a that this forum won't let me write. The line about the character not wanting to compare the Channel to grain alcohol made the mc feel very young. I feel like hard core monster hunting uncles would who would let their 17-year-old niece go take down a hydra would also be buying he a drink at the end of the day. I'm not sure it's even really these things at all and not just something more abstract about the voice and the character. To me it just feels and sounds like middle grade. 

 

On 6/20/2019 at 6:56 PM, kais said:

What I do think it needs is more stakes/buy in, because I don't know why I care about they hydra hunt. Why are they doing it? Are hydra a problem? Do they need money? Is this a coming of age thing?

I was also wondering about thesis things. The narrator says the uncle looks like an outlaw, but then I realize he isn't actually one later when he decides to use a channel instead of seeking help from the authorities. And the actual outlaw looks a lot different from the uncle. Are these two hunting to protect their own cattle? Do they do this for pay for other people? 

A few as I read notes:

"...naggin' my ear off....Yer such a man" This little exchange felt kind of forced me, like it was there just to reinforce gender stereotypes. 

"She downed all three at once." Reading this right after a line about not being supposed to take more than two at once, I was a little hesitant to believe she'd risk not being able to defeat the bad guy by taking three. I was surprised she lasted as long as she did. I thought the reflux was something that would happen as soon as you took the third or something by the way she had talked about it. 

In general, with the end of this, I'd like to longer a little more in the final battle.

Overall, the idea of being out with the uncle on the hunt and losing him worked for me as an inciting incident. I am invested in the main character and want to read on. Though, I will say I like Scarlet Saber better. 

 

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