Sarah B

SarahB 12-16 Deep Woods

19 posts in this topic

Hello All!

This is a short story I've been agonizing over and I welcome your feedback.

It's scifi short story, stand alone, with creature feature emements.

I don't think it needs much of a content warning but I'll put a mild violence warning just in case. Nothing graphic.

I really near to bring this story down another 700 words in order to submit it where I would like to. Any ideas and tips on where to cut the fat would be greatly appriciated. I've carved off over 1,000 words already (I overwrote the crap out of it apparently) but need to find a few more places to cut. 

In addition, other critiques welcome. What did you like? Not like? What's boring? What's confusing? Where am I asking too much of the reader?

Typo and spelling checks always welcome

This is my first submission to the group and I look forward to your feedback!

Sarah B.

 

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Hey Sarah,

This sounds very interesting. I hope you will forgive the liberty but, as you will learn, I am a frustrated editor (which is ironic, since I'm so slow editing my own stuff :unsure: ). I've dropped the text into a Word file and will comment in-line with suggestions, etc., if that's okay. And please remember that you invited typo and spelling comments... just saying :lol: 

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18 minutes ago, Robinski said:

Hey Sarah,

This sounds very interesting. I hope you will forgive the liberty but, as you will learn, I am a frustrated editor (which is ironic, since I'm so slow editing my own stuff :unsure: ). I've dropped the text into a Word file and will comment in-line with suggestions, etc., if that's okay. And please remember that you invited typo and spelling comments... just saying :lol: 

Sounds good! I could use some editing help I'm sure. 

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Welcome to Reading Excuses!

I really like the bones of this piece, but I think the structure could definitely be edited down. I mentioned a couple places to cut words below, and you could probably cut more in the description of the roller getting caught in the trap, since it doesn't really end up mattering at the end.

My main problems were confusion, after about page 5, lack of description in the action sequences, and I though the ending was a bit vague. I'd like to know how many people are left and just how desperate L and J's situation is.

Notes while reading:

Pg 1: "although any saving may only be temporary, given the state
of the world as a whole..."
-- I think you could cut this sentence. You give the state of the world later in the paragraph.

Pg 1: "Based on her hair and clothes,"
-- I don't see how this relates to a redwood.

Pg 1: "until the gravity drew all the
blood down and made his fingers tight and puffy by afternoon."
-- you could trim this paragraph down and eliminate the explanation of what happen when you hold something. Just tell us his fingers are sore and puffy.

Pg 2: "some idiot started following me everywhere.”
-- lol

Pg 2: "quiet" repeated twice in a paragraph

Pg 2: "when they arrived at the gulley where three would die."
-- don't understand what's going on here. Are they planning to kill three of their followers?

Pg 2: "fewer directions to lookout in"
--awkward

Pg 2: could also probably cut some of the carabiner and steel cord descriptions. I started skimming.

Pg 3-4: descriptions of the rollers are good. Very tense part.

pg 4: I don't really understand what L is doing with calculating parts of the radio signal. Is she calling the roller?

Pg 5: "she was gone before she could stand again. No blood, no hungry eating sounds. Just enveloped and gone and in a terrible way that it made it easier."
--not sure what's going on here. I thought the roller was caught in the faraday cage? How is it eating people?

pg 5: The blocking with the tree and the roller is a little unclear to me

pg 6: yeah, I can't really visualize what's happening and where the roller is or how big it is compared to the group and the tree.

pg 6: why is L crying? because the couple and the girl got killed or something else?

pg 7: I assume the "job" is taking out the rollers? This might be a good time to make it clearer.

pg 7: "I think that was the last one actually."
--The last one what? I still don't know what she's doing with the calculations. I also don't know the significance of three days.

pg 8: "those characters were the size of my hand."
--Rollers? What is she talking about?

pg 9: “You should have let me get rid of them. I think I could have gotten another ten to leave."
--ten people? I'm glad there's some more explanation here but I'm still very unsure on how much of this other people know, or how many other people there are.

pg 12: "The radio would keep the Rollers away"
--does it call them or repel them? I thought it brought them closer.

pg 12: "Game over. Great mystery solved."
--I feel like this is clear to J, but I don't know what he means.

pg 13: “Cats to eat the slow ones, traps to catch the clever ones.”
--Okay so I guess the rollers were just set on our world to get rid of people? Are most other people dead already? Once sentence could tell us whether these are close to the last people left in the world. As it is, the ending doesn't really have a bang because we're so focused on the rollers, but the real enemy is evidently something behind them.

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@Mandamon

Thank you for your critique. I appriciate the depth you went to. Clarity is something that I need to work on. I tend to waffle between over explaining and under explaining, and feedback helps me find a balance.  

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Fun story! The good:

- Cthulhu mythos - cool 

- Loved the shoggoths. It would be fun to have even more body horror. The idea of the shoggoth swallowing a body without blood, sound, and any trace is awesome

- the math puzzle bit. Loved the change of base reference and how L shows her hands to imply 'omg how many fingers do they have'.

- "The moment between the sound and the arrival was the true hell. The dread of seeing worse than the sight, as crackling became breaking, becomes shattering." - awesome, canonically 'indescribable' horror, these are so much fun

- "hungry beings humanity had been unknowingly calling from the deep black sky" - excellent

The bad:

- Like @Mandamon, I've had trouble visualizing. Usually it's advised against trying to paint a too exact picture with words because people never imagine it exactly the same and it takes lots of words. It's good that the cable setup paragraph sounds complicated because it implies effort; but those words could be used to imply effort by showing emotional/physical consequences, for example 'Then came the setup. No new people helping. Only old pros. First they drove bolts deep into the largest trees across the gully. Then they secured the steel cable with enough carabiners so it wouldn’t kink. These were the biggest pain to place. If the cable kinked or locked on itself, it could snap. Or so L claimed. She’d better be right – the setup was an hour of hard work getting everyone winded. Tense shadows deepened around their eyes with each minute of being exposed.' This para has 85 words instead of the original 99 and leaves aside some technical detail to focus on why it's hard on the people.

- In the opening, where L is introduced, I wasn't sure she was there next to the guy or he's just reminiscing. You can probably cut ~1/3 of the first page by making the setup and descriptions shorter and punchier, like 'He wasn’t sure when L came to the woods. Little showed from under the ragged jeans and mold-green hoodie, pulled up and cinched snug. As she walked at his side, the occasional glare of thick glasses and stray greasy hairs were all that suggested a human. She might've been twenty, fifty, or perhaps a forest troll.' A short story doesn't need more than that to introduce the deuteragonist.

- You can also shorten the reaction scene where the MCs argue with the secondary characters, there's no investment in those characters so the threat of their departure isn't driving up the tension. However it's good there is a reaction scene and this paragraph is excellent "Hostility was sitting with them, another member of the party, taking all the space and breathing all the air. It had a hand on a few of their necks and was squeezing." Maybe shorten the second sentence to "It had hands on their necks and was squeezing"

Writing 101 -> helps reduce word count:

- the story needs a good round of editing - there are quite a few typos. If you review it again in 1-2 days, you'll find places where the writing can be tightened. For instance, "She was new, Jacob realized she had arrived with the other new lady, the one who didn’t make it to the trees." can be shortened to "She came with the woman who didn't make it to the trees."

- speaking of tightening, review and decide which descriptions are not absolutely necessary. For instance, "The cage had gotten new scratches but the radio looked safe in it’s padding." can well be "the cage had new scratches but the radio was intact". Without color, shape etc there's no way to visualize the padding so it doesn't add to the story.

- filter words (words that increase narrative distance) need to be cut, e.g. the MC realized, saw, remembered, noticed etc. These have their place where used to explain MC's emotional state but not otherwise. In the above example, "the radio looked safe", 'looked' is a filter word because it filters the image of the radio through MC's eyes. 

- verb tense. Switch to past simple instead of past perfect. "the cage had gotten new scratches" can well be "the cage had new scratches" without loss of meaning.

- better to cut all mentions of the number of bolts and eyeholes, they don't help visualize, but break flow and add word count. All details this specific are better left out from short stories. Secondary character names can be removed, they're not characterization and therefore don't flesh out these people.

- the 'the' is sometimes unnecessary, i.e. here "until the gravity drew all the blood down" should be 'until gravity drew...'. Other instances can be rephrased to cut it, e.g. "The smarter thing would have been to strap it to the outside of his pack" can be "it would've been smarter to strap it to his pack"

- contractions - use them everywhere since it's fiction writing

Edited by Lightbearer
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Thoughts As I Go:

Pg. 1 – The second paragraph makes me think Cthullu mixed with zombies.

Pg. 1 – While I agree with some of the sentiments in fifth paragraph, the structure’s a little awkward.

Pg. 3 – Is the email provider mentioned significantly different than say, AOL? And if it is, then what’s the difference?

Pg. 3 – The Cthullu-zombies are mentioned. Also, if they can’t shatter trees, then a good six-inch steel door or a concrete bunker should be fine to stop them. But how are weapons against them?

Pg. 4 – I have no concrete image of what these things are, and that probably going to be an issue.

Pg. 4 – These things are dumb if they strain against the cable, which they can’t break, rather than the trees, which they can. But this is a very nice defense measure, though. This should come up more often in zombie literature.

Pg. 4 – Faraday cage – comment on it later.

Pg. 7 – J is an EMT. Interesting…

Pg. 8 - Where’d L get these markings from?

Pg. 9 – ‘Base ten’, not ‘ten-based’. It also should be noted that we don’t used a decimal cypher system ourselves when it comes to computers, all bit encryption is some form of 2^n. I’m not sure the encryption could tell you about the originator’s number of fingers. (I could go on about cyphers if you want.)

Pg. 9 – If they’re walking into a trap, why would they bring the rest of them?

Pg. 12 – Spaceship?

Pg. 12 – Nope, the spaceship is a heat ray from War of the Worlds.

Pg. 12 – Now is when that EMT training would come in handy.

 

Overall:

A lot of the dialogue towards the beginning is conveyed in paragraph form, through J’s inner monologue of remembering what other people had told him. I’m kind of ambivalent to this – I’d prefer more actual dialogue – but I don’t dislike the approach.

The radio is problematic, as radios are really just receivers, not transmitters. If all its picking up is a frequency, there’s no way that the Cthullu-zombies would be able to track it. Transmissions via radio wave are broadcast from a source, they’d head to the source instead. The Faraday cage would block the waves from reaching the radio, sure enough, but there should be no problem with just receiving signals.

As for the plot overall - I’m not a fan of the survival horror genre, which this seems to be, so take my plot criticisms with a grain of salt. The characters, overall, were decent, though I wished J could be fleshed out a bit more. The enemy was a bit unstructured, I could use a body structure at the least, I’m kind of envisioning this amorphous blob. The background group also suffers from Redshirt syndrome. They barely show up, they die a lot, and it affects J and L not at all. I mean, I get that they’re survivors and conditioned to watching people around them drop like flies, but a reaction would be nice. The theme is nice, I do enjoy some good display of conviction and stubbornness in the face of overwhelming odds.

Also, humanity is screwed. If they’re fighting aliens with this level of technology and lost that badly, the only reason they haven’t all died is because the aliens are either too lazy to kill them, or possibly videotaping the whole thing and uploading it to their version of the Galactic TV as a reality show.

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Hello and welcome to Reading Excuses!

 

Just on a formatting note, please remember to set the line spacing to double for submissions to RE. One, it's in our rules; two it's still required for a lot for publishing submission places so it's good to get in the habit; and 3, it really helps with my ability to read it (especially when it's a PDF that can't be formatted on my side.)

Over all, I liked this story. It stayed tense throughout and the end line was very good. The characters had distinct personalities and voices. I do feel like it wandered a little in the beginning and believe it could be trimmed up and slimmed down to fit your word limit without losing too much of it the tension or mystery. 

I'm fine with the vagueness at the ending. It works for the shadowy nature of the story. I think I would appreciate a line or two about M, simply because he was mentioned at the beginning of the last scene and then just kind of vanished. Was he vaporized? Did J and L lose track of him? 

 

As I go comments: 

I am a little bit confused by the beginning paragraphs. They seem to jump around in time a lot. Is the main character just coming to the woods or has he been there a while? If the story starts when he has been there a while and has met this other person, then I feel like the text should start there. I don't think it would lose much of the tension to skip the first couple opening paragraphs, as there is still plenty of mystery in the protagonist learning to walk through the woods and talking about the world ending.

There are some formatting things that could be done with this to help with flow and readability but I'm sure others will cover them, likewise spelling, grammar, and the tense shifts that others have mentioned.

Things get really tense towards the end, after the new people show up and that's very good! I feel like the beginning portions are where the most work is needed. 

I was a little confused as to where all the players were in the scene in the ravine with the radio and the trees. 

That last line is really good!

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So, I enjoyed this a fair amount, but did suffer a bit from lack of clarity in places, and some confusion. Also, I thought there was a tendency to wordiness, but that's just part of drafting and editing, I think.

As threatened, I have sent you a Word file (do let me know if you need another format) with suggested edits. I managed down to 4,998 words, and I don't think there's a need to cut anything substantive or important. General and specific comments follow. (I have not duplicated all of these comments in the Word file, sorry, it's a bit random, so really need to cover both :rolleyes:.)

Because I've pasted into Word, I expect my page numbers will be different, sorry!

page 2

- "where three would die" - I'm confused by the time frame. The first page made it difficult to tie down if he was looking back, and if so where from. More so on Page Two (in my cut-and-paste version) there is drifting of tense between 'J is' and 'he was', etc.

For me, the part about setting up the cables is too wordy and complicated. I struggled follow/picture it, and I don't really care. Is this a story about zombies/demons, or telecommunications?

- So, these cables, they are actually an ariel, they're not supporting anything else, then only reason they are there is to receive the signal. I think cables is the wrong word. Or rather, not explaining they are the aerial is inaccurate.

- "Miss one and you're on your own." - I'm not clear on what this means. That they won't find the next signal at all?

- "email dialing up" - Hmm, but is it Morse code that L is hearing? I would not say that sounds that similar to the old dial-up modem handshake.

page 3

- "Like a radio" - So, the description here, it sounds to me like what they have is a receiver, but not a transmitter. I'm not an expert, but I'm not aware that the average domestic radio sends any signal out, but purely receives it through the aerial. So how would the invaders locate them?

- "She would sit there" - Yeah, so I'm still feeling that the piece sways between being in the moment, and being J's recollection of the moment. It's quite distracting. Phrasing like "She would..." whatever, is very much in the mode of him sitting in an armchair recounting this experience much later, which implies that he survives, of course. But much of the other phrasing is more immediate and present. I'm not good with all the tenses to be honest, the names of them, but I I know there's something off here.

- I cannot suspend my disbelief over there eye bolts. You say the R is massive, but don't explain how big it actually is. Is it twenty feet; fifty feet in diameter? What ever the case, if it has so much mass and energy, there is no way those bolts don't just pull out of the wood on first contact. I'm a Civil Engineer, so stuff like this rings my (alarm) bells. It sounds to me like rock anchors would be required to resist the force of the R.

- To me, it doesn't matter how wide and old the trees are. I feel the way it was described, the cables are not loop around the trees, but are threaded through eye bolts in the trees' trunks. The connection in that case is only as strong as that part of the wood in contact with the thread of the bolt.

page 4 

- It it's a shapeless mass, how does it roll? I've been picturing it like a big sphere, kind of Raiders of the Lost Ark or the new BBC adaptation of War of the Worlds (which is really good!! Back in the correct period, thankfully.), but with a black and undulating surface.

- Confused. A slack cable can't pull out anything. Also, I'm not convinced about the behaviour of the tree. A tree that thick is not going to bendm is it? Surely it will just break. Also, confused about where the bolts are.

- "only sound in that moment" - How can this be if the R is still around bashing down trees?

- "choking on the smells of dirt and wood" - These are not especially pungent, IMO.

- I'm really confused by the blocking (i.e the location of all the moving parts). They are running away from the R. The R knocked over the biggest tree, so it was at that tree. But then J and L are running towards the tree. Isn't that towards the R? Also, there tree has fallen over the gulley, but it was said that they had to run away from the gulley. I really don't know what they're doing at this point.

page 5

- Most things that happen in narrative have an inbuilt timeframe that can be deduced easily by the reader from the text. A lot of the time words like 'suddenly', 'instantly', etc. actually slow down the narrative. So do phrases like 'in that moment', which you seems to use a fair bit. I'd suggest only using these phrases when there could be some doubt, or where there needs to be a big emphasis. I think you can save 20/30 words just from that.

- I don't believe J can climb a massive tree when it's falling into a gulley, in all honesty, and it sounds like no one has fallen off? Seems quite improbable. (Ah, I see they have, that's good, but...) The thing is... More stakes. I'm not feeling the stakes. This thing should be snapping at their heels.

- Totally confused about the cable (which has just reappeared. This cable seems to be all over the place. I struggle to picture the logistics of the cable, and this tends to make me skip over these parts.

- "to their pre-arranged meeting point a mile away" - Huh? Wait a sec, what pre-arranged meeting point? This was a stop in my tracks moment. I don't remember this being established. It may be I've forgotten since yesterday when I was last reading, but I'm not so sure. I mean who are they meeting? I thought they got a different message everyday.

- "my own destiny..." - This is kind of purple for me, out of tone with the rest of the story. I don't really understand his point.

- "It was steep and sheltered" - How can a hill be sheltered? By trees?

page 6

- "It was perfect weather for a mutiny" - I have a bit of a problem with this. I have almost no sense of any of the other characters, so this comes out of nowhere, IMO. I'm not saying give everyone else a character moment, but I think if you're going to have a mutiny, you need to show someone, more than one, complaining about the current leadership, or mention that there have been grumblings, something for foreshadow this before it lands.

- "the tension build around him" - I believe that when you tell us that a chr is feeling something, it puts a barrier between us and the feeling itself. It's telling, not showing. When you take out the statement, it goes back to showing, IMO.

- "a group of prey may survive where a lone animal wouldn’t" - I don't get this. Not sure it's automatically true. The loner can be more stealthy, but, in this situation, it's the radio that brings the invaders, so what does group vs. loner have to do with it, really? 

- I like L, I like how her character comes through, and it plays well against J's. They are nicely distinct, IMO. This is important since they are really the only two characters in the story (so far).

- "I think that was the last one" - Not clear on what she means. I think it's the last message, but I'd like to be more sure.

page 7

- "The question of where the coordinates they had been chasing would lead didn’t come up." - I feel like the important thing is what, or who, is at the end of those coordinates. And how does L know that they are the last set? How does she know that when they get to the end, they won't just get another transmission. What sort of data is being broadcast? I mention Morse code earlier, but it can't be that, or they would be suspicious that the source was only sending numbers, not any kind of textual message. I think they would be suspicious that there is not attempt to send meaningful messages.

- "characters were the size of my hand. Large but not as large as they should be" - I don't understand either part of this, or what I am to deduce from it.

- "Do you?" - I really, really enjoy L's voice. Well done. Her tone, and J's to be fair, are very consistent, and I continue to enjoy the distinction. I think this is the major strength of the story, but then I am always character focused.

- "someone who isn’t us is broadcasting the coordinates" - This goes back to my point about Morse code. How did they get this far before coming to this conclusion? I would have thought the first assumption would be that humans would use Morse to send actual messages instead of just numbers. Morse is so simple to use. I should add that, despite this, I am intrigued to discover the outcome, I just wonder if the set up could be tighter.

page 10

- "Great mystery solved." - I'm slightly underwhelmed here, because I feel they should have been doubting the source of the message from the start, for reasons stated previously.

- "disaster" - I didn't get this sense. He's been quite successful, I thought.

page 11 

- "Cats to eat the slow one" - Hard stop for me here. Cats are domestic, and not threatening. I find this a bit weak. Why not jackals; or ratters, which kind of evokes Rs in its sound; or even vultures. Something more threatening.

- "clever ones" - Hmm. See earlier comments. I think they've been quiet naive thinking the signals were human/benign.

conclusion 

I enjoyed the story. It's got good momentum, I like the pacing and I enjoy the two characters, their respective personalities (which I found distinctive), and the byplay between them. There were points of style that I have highlighted through the in-line comments (emailed separately). I like the arc of the story, that it doesn't wrap up all neatly at the end, but that it does have a satisfying conclusion. As an incurable romantic, I bought into the ending completely. I particularly liked how you did not overtly play up their relationship, but that the clues were their (from J's perspective anyway, but occasionally very subtly (I thought) from L's in her grouchy way).

One problem with the ending I must flag is how L ends up being characterised as a BURDEN!!! No!!! I really think you need to address that. She was driving the whole thing and brought them to where they were going. Okay, that turned out to be misguided, but that's on him as much as her (and a bit unconvincing, IMO, as I have noted already). Still, I think you can have him carrying her at the end, but I think it would be better to use this as a counterpoint against how she carried him for much of the story.

I really hope my inline stuff is useful, and again, please forgive me for my 'enthusiasm' in suggesting must and changes, I get pretty energised seeing ways that (I think) a story can be better. I hope there are things there that you can use.

Thanks for sharing, and welcome to the Reading Excuses!! :) 

Edited by Robinski
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Hello! Please forgive my late comments.

Overall:

There are some nice bits of writing and characterization in here, and I enjoyed the overall tone and, to borrow @Mandamon's phrase, the bones of the piece.

I struggled with descriptions of the camp set-up and the attack by the Rs, but I think that if I have a better idea of what the camp actually looks like, that will go a long way towards clarifying the blocking during the R attack.

Along the same lines, I also wondered about practical things: How many of these people are there? How are they finding food/water? How do they know where they’re going, that is, how are they connecting the coordinates being broadcast to practical navigation? There’s no mention of any other tools, I don’t think.

I’ll confess to being a bit disappointed, originally, when after L got burned they left the area without seeing a glimpse of whatever brought the Rs here. The conclusion (which I did like) leads me to think that maybe that wasn’t the point, though. If that’s the case and the main arc is the emotional one, perhaps the relationship between J and L needs to be played up a little more.

As for where you can trim some words, since you mentioned needing to shorten it by about 700: There’s no individual scene that struck me obviously as needing to go. That said, there definitely some places where it could be trimmed; there is a lot in the opening few paragraphs. The attack by the Rs also seemed quite lengthy.

As I read:

P1 “for any external reason” - stumbled on this a bit. Any logical reason perhaps?

It took me a few paragraphs to get a handle on the level of urgency that I should be feeling from the POV character. The first paragraph seems to indicate that J has only just run out into the woods, and might still be being chased (presumably) by whatever drove him there. But then the next few paragraphs are fairly reflective, which belies the “I’m being chased into the woods by monsters” idea, and it’s only the third and fourth paragraphs in that we get a good idea that J’s actually been out here for a while now.

Nice bit of characterization with comment about holding the radio in his hand.

“...I was carrying [the radio] once and some idiot started following me everywhere.” Hah.

“one of the only old timers who is tall enough” - should be “was tall enough” to be consistent with the rest of the story which is in past tense.

P3 “Miss one, and your on your own” first “your” should be “you’re”

also p3: “regardless of the world” is sort of an odd word choice, although I do get what you’re going for. Maybe something like “heedless”? It’s a bit archaic, but a more common/correct word than “regardless” in this context, I think.

Also p3: “cabels” should be “cables.” There’s another on p4.

I’m having some trouble visualizing what this camp set-up actually looks like. Are they suspended between the trees, or…?

Bottom of p4 “now secure in it’s farady cage” should be “its”

p6 “the radio looked safe in it’s padding” same thing here.

P11 “The two walked along side each other one calm and resolved,” need a comma between “other” and “one”

On 12/16/2019 at 0:47 PM, Mandamon said:

and I though the ending was a bit vague. I'd like to know how many people are left and just how desperate L and J's situation is.

Agree. Good call here, I think.

On 12/16/2019 at 0:47 PM, Mandamon said:

Pg 2: "when they arrived at the gulley where three would die."
-- don't understand what's going on here. Are they planning to kill three of their followers?

and

On 12/20/2019 at 1:30 AM, Robinski said:

- "where three would die" - I'm confused by the time frame

I didn't have a problem with this comment, as I assumed the narrator was looking back to tell us this story. There's no explicit framing device, but I didn't really feel like it needed one for this line to work; I think the reflective tone of the narration made it easy for me to come across this line and make this assumption.

On 12/16/2019 at 0:47 PM, Mandamon said:

pg 8: "those characters were the size of my hand."
--Rollers? What is she talking about?

Yes, I was also confused by the description of the drawn characters and how exactly it connected.

On 12/17/2019 at 10:00 AM, Lightbearer said:

- Loved the shoggoths. It would be fun to have even more body horror. The idea of the shoggoth swallowing a body without blood, sound, and any trace is awesome

Yes. I had trouble with the description of the scene in general, but this line stood out as a very nice touch.

On 12/17/2019 at 10:42 AM, aeromancer said:

Pg. 3 – Is the email provider mentioned significantly different than say, AOL? And if it is, then what’s the difference?

Don't think this is something that needs to be expanded on within the story itself, personally, although it may be better to go with something like AOL just because it's so widely known.

Sidenote, the mention of Earthlink (and AOL, for that matter) gives the story a kind of dated feel, as does the comment about "dialing up." I don't mean that as a pejorative, particularly - it's just a distinct choice for science fiction. It makes it feel a little bit like science fiction meets alternate history: "it was 1995 when the aliens came."

On 12/17/2019 at 10:42 AM, aeromancer said:

Pg. 12 – Now is when that EMT training would come in handy.

Yeah, we didn't get quite as much of this as I was expecting.

Hope that is helpful. Welcome to the group!

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I read this last week but was intimidated by everyone's thorough comments, but I figured I better go ahead and write what I thought.

I thought the tension leading up to turning on the radio was really well done. I was very uneasy about what would happen at that point. Like others, I noticed the shifts in time perspective and I was thinking there was going to be some big reveal about when the narrator was actually talking from, but it seemed to kind of peter out. I feel like framing it this way did contribute to the tension at the beginning, but you needed to come back to it later. I assume it was supposed to be from the time right before they head to the final meeting point, but I didn't catch it or the switch into present tense that should follow.

Like others, I was confused when the crew was setting up the cables as I couldn't get a picture in my head of what they looked like or what they were for. I read the paragraph over and over trying to figure it out. From the later statement that they were all inside it, I gathered that it was some sort of cage, but couldn't decide whether it was supposed to help with radio reception (or something) or serve as protection. I only figured that out right when the attack happened. I also wondered why they never went back to get the cables. If this happened in the past, did they retrieve the cables before?

I enjoyed the strong relationship between L and J established at the beginning of the story and felt that it kind of got lost towards the end. A little reminder of it later on might be nice.

I was confused by the final reveal. I didn't understand what was happening until a few paragraphs later when you explain it. I felt like that was a lost opportunity, as I would like to feel the horror as the characters realize they are just being exterminated like rats. Maybe somehow seed the explanation earlier? Have them bring up the idea of exterminating something else earlier so that it clicks?

I don't have a lot of comments on grammar, but the misspelling of cable/cabel was very distracting. :D

Edited by lizbusby
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14 hours ago, lizbusby said:

I read this last week but was intimidated by everyone's thorough comments, but I figured I better go ahead and write what I thought.

I'm really glad you posted this, Liz. Thanks for sharing.

As a general note to our new(er) members, 'the regulars' have developed a style that is really quite detailed. For my own part, it's just my approach to life really, to dive into detail (as an engineer), but I am always reminded when I read the comments of others that I am a bit weak on broader themes, arcs and subtitles. To my shame I feel that, often, I do not stress enough the positive responses that I have on a given piece.

I think it's really important that we get the message across in the introduction to the forum that there is no expectation on the format of a critique, or its scope, or depth. In no way are line-by-line comments expected, some of us have gotten into the habit of doing that, but it is NOT an expectation.

Personally, I would be (and am) just as happy to receive an overview / impression, or a few briefs lines on the feelings engendered as a detailed critique, although this still valuable, of course.

@Silk, I wonder if this is something that needs to go into the guidance, just as a one-liner in terms of 'Please feel free to comment in as much detail as you want, but please note that general impressions and overall summation of response to a submission are just as valid and useful.'

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On 12/25/2019 at 1:47 AM, Robinski said:

I'm really glad you posted this, Liz. Thanks for sharing.

Robinski beat me to the punch, of course, but yeah, exactly this. Please don't worry that your comments are somehow inadequate. All we ask from our critiquers is an honest, thoughtful appraisal of your reactions to the work that's submitted, and that can take a lot of different forms (and the fact that everyone's critiques are different is a feature, not a bug).

I've updated the guidelines accordingly, and will now nudge the topic gently back to @Sarah B's story. :)

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On 12/17/2019 at 10:00 AM, Lightbearer said:

Fun story! The good:

- Cthulhu mythos - cool 

- Loved the shoggoths. It would be fun to have even more body horror. The idea of the shoggoth swallowing a body without blood, sound, and any trace is awesome

- the math puzzle bit. Loved the change of base reference and how L shows her hands to imply 'omg how many fingers do they have'.

- "The moment between the sound and the arrival was the true hell. The dread of seeing worse than the sight, as crackling became breaking, becomes shattering." - awesome, canonically 'indescribable' horror, these are so much fun

- "hungry beings humanity had been unknowingly calling from the deep black sky" - excellent

The bad:

- Like @Mandamon, I've had trouble visualizing. Usually it's advised against trying to paint a too exact picture with words because people never imagine it exactly the same and it takes lots of words. It's good that the cable setup paragraph sounds complicated because it implies effort; but those words could be used to imply effort by showing emotional/physical consequences, for example 'Then came the setup. No new people helping. Only old pros. First they drove bolts deep into the largest trees across the gully. Then they secured the steel cable with enough carabiners so it wouldn’t kink. These were the biggest pain to place. If the cable kinked or locked on itself, it could snap. Or so L claimed. She’d better be right – the setup was an hour of hard work getting everyone winded. Tense shadows deepened around their eyes with each minute of being exposed.' This para has 85 words instead of the original 99 and leaves aside some technical detail to focus on why it's hard on the people.

- In the opening, where L is introduced, I wasn't sure she was there next to the guy or he's just reminiscing. You can probably cut ~1/3 of the first page by making the setup and descriptions shorter and punchier, like 'He wasn’t sure when L came to the woods. Little showed from under the ragged jeans and mold-green hoodie, pulled up and cinched snug. As she walked at his side, the occasional glare of thick glasses and stray greasy hairs were all that suggested a human. She might've been twenty, fifty, or perhaps a forest troll.' A short story doesn't need more than that to introduce the deuteragonist.

- You can also shorten the reaction scene where the MCs argue with the secondary characters, there's no investment in those characters so the threat of their departure isn't driving up the tension. However it's good there is a reaction scene and this paragraph is excellent "Hostility was sitting with them, another member of the party, taking all the space and breathing all the air. It had a hand on a few of their necks and was squeezing." Maybe shorten the second sentence to "It had hands on their necks and was squeezing"

Writing 101 -> helps reduce word count:

- the story needs a good round of editing - there are quite a few typos. If you review it again in 1-2 days, you'll find places where the writing can be tightened. For instance, "She was new, Jacob realized she had arrived with the other new lady, the one who didn’t make it to the trees." can be shortened to "She came with the woman who didn't make it to the trees."

- speaking of tightening, review and decide which descriptions are not absolutely necessary. For instance, "The cage had gotten new scratches but the radio looked safe in it’s padding." can well be "the cage had new scratches but the radio was intact". Without color, shape etc there's no way to visualize the padding so it doesn't add to the story.

- filter words (words that increase narrative distance) need to be cut, e.g. the MC realized, saw, remembered, noticed etc. These have their place where used to explain MC's emotional state but not otherwise. In the above example, "the radio looked safe", 'looked' is a filter word because it filters the image of the radio through MC's eyes. 

- verb tense. Switch to past simple instead of past perfect. "the cage had gotten new scratches" can well be "the cage had new scratches" without loss of meaning.

- better to cut all mentions of the number of bolts and eyeholes, they don't help visualize, but break flow and add word count. All details this specific are better left out from short stories. Secondary character names can be removed, they're not characterization and therefore don't flesh out these people.

- the 'the' is sometimes unnecessary, i.e. here "until the gravity drew all the blood down" should be 'until gravity drew...'. Other instances can be rephrased to cut it, e.g. "The smarter thing would have been to strap it to the outside of his pack" can be "it would've been smarter to strap it to his pack"

- contractions - use them everywhere since it's fiction writing

Thank you for the tips and the thorough critique!

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On 12/17/2019 at 10:42 AM, aeromancer said:

Thoughts As I Go:

Pg. 1 – The second paragraph makes me think Cthullu mixed with zombies.

Pg. 1 – While I agree with some of the sentiments in fifth paragraph, the structure’s a little awkward.

Pg. 3 – Is the email provider mentioned significantly different than say, AOL? And if it is, then what’s the difference?

Pg. 3 – The Cthullu-zombies are mentioned. Also, if they can’t shatter trees, then a good six-inch steel door or a concrete bunker should be fine to stop them. But how are weapons against them?

Pg. 4 – I have no concrete image of what these things are, and that probably going to be an issue.

Pg. 4 – These things are dumb if they strain against the cable, which they can’t break, rather than the trees, which they can. But this is a very nice defense measure, though. This should come up more often in zombie literature.

Pg. 4 – Faraday cage – comment on it later.

Pg. 7 – J is an EMT. Interesting…

Pg. 8 - Where’d L get these markings from?

Pg. 9 – ‘Base ten’, not ‘ten-based’. It also should be noted that we don’t used a decimal cypher system ourselves when it comes to computers, all bit encryption is some form of 2^n. I’m not sure the encryption could tell you about the originator’s number of fingers. (I could go on about cyphers if you want.)

Pg. 9 – If they’re walking into a trap, why would they bring the rest of them?

Pg. 12 – Spaceship?

Pg. 12 – Nope, the spaceship is a heat ray from War of the Worlds.

Pg. 12 – Now is when that EMT training would come in handy.

 

Overall:

A lot of the dialogue towards the beginning is conveyed in paragraph form, through J’s inner monologue of remembering what other people had told him. I’m kind of ambivalent to this – I’d prefer more actual dialogue – but I don’t dislike the approach.

The radio is problematic, as radios are really just receivers, not transmitters. If all its picking up is a frequency, there’s no way that the Cthullu-zombies would be able to track it. Transmissions via radio wave are broadcast from a source, they’d head to the source instead. The Faraday cage would block the waves from reaching the radio, sure enough, but there should be no problem with just receiving signals.

As for the plot overall - I’m not a fan of the survival horror genre, which this seems to be, so take my plot criticisms with a grain of salt. The characters, overall, were decent, though I wished J could be fleshed out a bit more. The enemy was a bit unstructured, I could use a body structure at the least, I’m kind of envisioning this amorphous blob. The background group also suffers from Redshirt syndrome. They barely show up, they die a lot, and it affects J and L not at all. I mean, I get that they’re survivors and conditioned to watching people around them drop like flies, but a reaction would be nice. The theme is nice, I do enjoy some good display of conviction and stubbornness in the face of overwhelming odds.

Also, humanity is screwed. If they’re fighting aliens with this level of technology and lost that badly, the only reason they haven’t all died is because the aliens are either too lazy to kill them, or possibly videotaping the whole thing and uploading it to their version of the Galactic TV as a reality show.

Thanks Aeromancer!

I appriciate the suggestions and the tech checking. The Faraday cage wasn't intended for the radio waves but the EM waves generated from using anything electric. The radio is solar charging hence why it has to be kept out and would constantly be a risk if not contained. I didn't explain any of this though, so thats on me. Since J didn't know or particularly care I left it out but maybe I should rethink that. 

Rolling blob of doom is exactly what I was going for so I'll take that as a win.

I agree, a bunker would be a much smarter option for survival and I imagine there are thousands of people around the world doing just that in this scenario.  J and L are just too curious and driven for their own good :-) 

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On 12/18/2019 at 2:44 PM, industrialistDragon said:

Hello and welcome to Reading Excuses!

 

Just on a formatting note, please remember to set the line spacing to double for submissions to RE. One, it's in our rules; two it's still required for a lot for publishing submission places so it's good to get in the habit; and 3, it really helps with my ability to read it (especially when it's a PDF that can't be formatted on my side.)

Over all, I liked this story. It stayed tense throughout and the end line was very good. The characters had distinct personalities and voices. I do feel like it wandered a little in the beginning and believe it could be trimmed up and slimmed down to fit your word limit without losing too much of it the tension or mystery. 

I'm fine with the vagueness at the ending. It works for the shadowy nature of the story. I think I would appreciate a line or two about M, simply because he was mentioned at the beginning of the last scene and then just kind of vanished. Was he vaporized? Did J and L lose track of him? 

 

As I go comments: 

I am a little bit confused by the beginning paragraphs. They seem to jump around in time a lot. Is the main character just coming to the woods or has he been there a while? If the story starts when he has been there a while and has met this other person, then I feel like the text should start there. I don't think it would lose much of the tension to skip the first couple opening paragraphs, as there is still plenty of mystery in the protagonist learning to walk through the woods and talking about the world ending.

There are some formatting things that could be done with this to help with flow and readability but I'm sure others will cover them, likewise spelling, grammar, and the tense shifts that others have mentioned.

Things get really tense towards the end, after the new people show up and that's very good! I feel like the beginning portions are where the most work is needed. 

I was a little confused as to where all the players were in the scene in the ravine with the radio and the trees. 

That last line is really good!

Thank you so much!

Thinking up the last line was when J really developed as a character for me, I'm glad you liked it.

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On 12/20/2019 at 1:30 AM, Robinski said:

So, I enjoyed this a fair amount, but did suffer a bit from lack of clarity in places, and some confusion. Also, I thought there was a tendency to wordiness, but that's just part of drafting and editing, I think.

As threatened, I have sent you a Word file (do let me know if you need another format) with suggested edits. I managed down to 4,998 words, and I don't think there's a need to cut anything substantive or important. General and specific comments follow. (I have not duplicated all of these comments in the Word file, sorry, it's a bit random, so really need to cover both :rolleyes:.)

Because I've pasted into Word, I expect my page numbers will be different, sorry!

page 2

- "where three would die" - I'm confused by the time frame. The first page made it difficult to tie down if he was looking back, and if so where from. More so on Page Two (in my cut-and-paste version) there is drifting of tense between 'J is' and 'he was', etc.

For me, the part about setting up the cables is too wordy and complicated. I struggled follow/picture it, and I don't really care. Is this a story about zombies/demons, or telecommunications?

- So, these cables, they are actually an ariel, they're not supporting anything else, then only reason they are there is to receive the signal. I think cables is the wrong word. Or rather, not explaining they are the aerial is inaccurate.

- "Miss one and you're on your own." - I'm not clear on what this means. That they won't find the next signal at all?

- "email dialing up" - Hmm, but is it Morse code that L is hearing? I would not say that sounds that similar to the old dial-up modem handshake.

page 3

- "Like a radio" - So, the description here, it sounds to me like what they have is a receiver, but not a transmitter. I'm not an expert, but I'm not aware that the average domestic radio sends any signal out, but purely receives it through the aerial. So how would the invaders locate them?

- "She would sit there" - Yeah, so I'm still feeling that the piece sways between being in the moment, and being J's recollection of the moment. It's quite distracting. Phrasing like "She would..." whatever, is very much in the mode of him sitting in an armchair recounting this experience much later, which implies that he survives, of course. But much of the other phrasing is more immediate and present. I'm not good with all the tenses to be honest, the names of them, but I I know there's something off here.

- I cannot suspend my disbelief over there eye bolts. You say the R is massive, but don't explain how big it actually is. Is it twenty feet; fifty feet in diameter? What ever the case, if it has so much mass and energy, there is no way those bolts don't just pull out of the wood on first contact. I'm a Civil Engineer, so stuff like this rings my (alarm) bells. It sounds to me like rock anchors would be required to resist the force of the R.

- To me, it doesn't matter how wide and old the trees are. I feel the way it was described, the cables are not loop around the trees, but are threaded through eye bolts in the trees' trunks. The connection in that case is only as strong as that part of the wood in contact with the thread of the bolt.

page 4 

- It it's a shapeless mass, how does it roll? I've been picturing it like a big sphere, kind of Raiders of the Lost Ark or the new BBC adaptation of War of the Worlds (which is really good!! Back in the correct period, thankfully.), but with a black and undulating surface.

- Confused. A slack cable can't pull out anything. Also, I'm not convinced about the behaviour of the tree. A tree that thick is not going to bendm is it? Surely it will just break. Also, confused about where the bolts are.

- "only sound in that moment" - How can this be if the R is still around bashing down trees?

- "choking on the smells of dirt and wood" - These are not especially pungent, IMO.

- I'm really confused by the blocking (i.e the location of all the moving parts). They are running away from the R. The R knocked over the biggest tree, so it was at that tree. But then J and L are running towards the tree. Isn't that towards the R? Also, there tree has fallen over the gulley, but it was said that they had to run away from the gulley. I really don't know what they're doing at this point.

page 5

- Most things that happen in narrative have an inbuilt timeframe that can be deduced easily by the reader from the text. A lot of the time words like 'suddenly', 'instantly', etc. actually slow down the narrative. So do phrases like 'in that moment', which you seems to use a fair bit. I'd suggest only using these phrases when there could be some doubt, or where there needs to be a big emphasis. I think you can save 20/30 words just from that.

- I don't believe J can climb a massive tree when it's falling into a gulley, in all honesty, and it sounds like no one has fallen off? Seems quite improbable. (Ah, I see they have, that's good, but...) The thing is... More stakes. I'm not feeling the stakes. This thing should be snapping at their heels.

- Totally confused about the cable (which has just reappeared. This cable seems to be all over the place. I struggle to picture the logistics of the cable, and this tends to make me skip over these parts.

- "to their pre-arranged meeting point a mile away" - Huh? Wait a sec, what pre-arranged meeting point? This was a stop in my tracks moment. I don't remember this being established. It may be I've forgotten since yesterday when I was last reading, but I'm not so sure. I mean who are they meeting? I thought they got a different message everyday.

- "my own destiny..." - This is kind of purple for me, out of tone with the rest of the story. I don't really understand his point.

- "It was steep and sheltered" - How can a hill be sheltered? By trees?

page 6

- "It was perfect weather for a mutiny" - I have a bit of a problem with this. I have almost no sense of any of the other characters, so this comes out of nowhere, IMO. I'm not saying give everyone else a character moment, but I think if you're going to have a mutiny, you need to show someone, more than one, complaining about the current leadership, or mention that there have been grumblings, something for foreshadow this before it lands.

- "the tension build around him" - I believe that when you tell us that a chr is feeling something, it puts a barrier between us and the feeling itself. It's telling, not showing. When you take out the statement, it goes back to showing, IMO.

- "a group of prey may survive where a lone animal wouldn’t" - I don't get this. Not sure it's automatically true. The loner can be more stealthy, but, in this situation, it's the radio that brings the invaders, so what does group vs. loner have to do with it, really? 

- I like L, I like how her character comes through, and it plays well against J's. They are nicely distinct, IMO. This is important since they are really the only two characters in the story (so far).

- "I think that was the last one" - Not clear on what she means. I think it's the last message, but I'd like to be more sure.

page 7

- "The question of where the coordinates they had been chasing would lead didn’t come up." - I feel like the important thing is what, or who, is at the end of those coordinates. And how does L know that they are the last set? How does she know that when they get to the end, they won't just get another transmission. What sort of data is being broadcast? I mention Morse code earlier, but it can't be that, or they would be suspicious that the source was only sending numbers, not any kind of textual message. I think they would be suspicious that there is not attempt to send meaningful messages.

- "characters were the size of my hand. Large but not as large as they should be" - I don't understand either part of this, or what I am to deduce from it.

- "Do you?" - I really, really enjoy L's voice. Well done. Her tone, and J's to be fair, are very consistent, and I continue to enjoy the distinction. I think this is the major strength of the story, but then I am always character focused.

- "someone who isn’t us is broadcasting the coordinates" - This goes back to my point about Morse code. How did they get this far before coming to this conclusion? I would have thought the first assumption would be that humans would use Morse to send actual messages instead of just numbers. Morse is so simple to use. I should add that, despite this, I am intrigued to discover the outcome, I just wonder if the set up could be tighter.

page 10

- "Great mystery solved." - I'm slightly underwhelmed here, because I feel they should have been doubting the source of the message from the start, for reasons stated previously.

- "disaster" - I didn't get this sense. He's been quite successful, I thought.

page 11 

- "Cats to eat the slow one" - Hard stop for me here. Cats are domestic, and not threatening. I find this a bit weak. Why not jackals; or ratters, which kind of evokes Rs in its sound; or even vultures. Something more threatening.

- "clever ones" - Hmm. See earlier comments. I think they've been quiet naive thinking the signals were human/benign.

conclusion 

I enjoyed the story. It's got good momentum, I like the pacing and I enjoy the two characters, their respective personalities (which I found distinctive), and the byplay between them. There were points of style that I have highlighted through the in-line comments (emailed separately). I like the arc of the story, that it doesn't wrap up all neatly at the end, but that it does have a satisfying conclusion. As an incurable romantic, I bought into the ending completely. I particularly liked how you did not overtly play up their relationship, but that the clues were their (from J's perspective anyway, but occasionally very subtly (I thought) from L's in her grouchy way).

One problem with the ending I must flag is how L ends up being characterised as a BURDEN!!! No!!! I really think you need to address that. She was driving the whole thing and brought them to where they were going. Okay, that turned out to be misguided, but that's on him as much as her (and a bit unconvincing, IMO, as I have noted already). Still, I think you can have him carrying her at the end, but I think it would be better to use this as a counterpoint against how she carried him for much of the story.

I really hope my inline stuff is useful, and again, please forgive me for my 'enthusiasm' in suggesting must and changes, I get pretty energised seeing ways that (I think) a story can be better. I hope there are things there that you can use.

Thanks for sharing, and welcome to the Reading Excuses!! :) 

Thanks for both rounds of edits!

I especially appriciate the eye bolt catch. Consensis is that the majority of that part needs to be cut so I'll figure out their new baracade system from scratch. 

The radio has bothered a few people, I'll need to address exactly what's happening in more detail. 

Also the redshirts :-)

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Late but here!

Overall

I think some work is needed to determine what the theme of the story is, then develop the characters, then work on the worldbuilding. The narrative seems to wander as much as J does, but it's hard to know who to root for, or even what is going on in the world. I don't feel any threat from the antagonists and I don't have any world buy-in because I don't know anything about the two main characters. Because of this I was unable to get invested in the story. Reading above, it appears others were able to invest in the characters so it might just be me that didn't connect. 

I think you have the start of something good here, but it needs some cleaning and trimming. If you cut a lot of the extra bits it could be a very sharp story.

 

On 12/16/2019 at 0:47 PM, Mandamon said:

y main problems were confusion, after about page 5, lack of description in the action sequences, and I though the ending was a bit vague.

I had this same issue

 

As I go

before he knew it was safe for any external reason <-- I read this three times. I still don't understand what it is referring to. 

- the second paragraph also confuses me. I'm not really certain what it is saying or what information it is trying to convey

Animal fear that the radio would draw their invaders <-- what now? I am so confused. What is the threat? Is this just MC against humanity? Are there aliens or something?

when they arrived at the gulley where three would die <-- is this J's voice or authorial? If J's, how does he know this? I don't understand the rules of this world

Maybe because it's one <--- tense change

who is tall enough <-- tense change

- pg 3: tense changes throughout here. I'll stop noting them individually

- pg 3: I think the narrative actually starts on page three. Suggest cutting the previous pages.

- pg 4: thus far the only thing we know about the antagonists right now is that they are black. 

The felled giant <-- Wait there are giants???

- pg 5: I don't think the characters outside of our MC and L are necessary. They have no distinct personalities or apparent use. It would make the narrative less confusing if they were cut

- pg 7: It's hard for me to stay focused right now. I don't understand the threat, or the stakes, or have any character investment so I'm not able to find any anchors to hold on to. I skimmed to the end and am still not sure what the purpose of the story was

 

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On 12/25/2019 at 1:47 AM, Robinski said:

think it's really important that we get the message across in the introduction to the forum that there is no expectation on the format of a critique, or its scope, or depth. In no way are line-by-line comments expected, some of us have gotten into the habit of doing that, but it is NOT an expectation.

This is a good point! In fact my crits have changed to be less LBL-like the longer I've been here, due to the influence of my agent and his editorial style (and what I've learned are things to focus on versus not in the drafting stage for my own uses with him). 

Everyone has their own style, and everyone's comments are useful. It's nice here that we have some big picture people, some LBL people, some in between. It gives people very well rounded crits!

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