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killersquid

20200316 - killersquid - Arcane heart (most of) chapter 1 (V) 5012 words

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Rework of chapter 1, I dropped the prologue entirely due to popular demand. Tried to start where the story starts, make formatting actually legible. 
There's still plenty of spelking and possible grammar errors in there but I'd love it if you could ignore those and focus on content and layout.
 
Kind regards,
Squid
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Welcome back, and good on you for reworking!

Overall

A definitive improvement! I'd say the next step is to work on character buy in and trimming the excess fighting. I've got more notes below but generally, if you introduce an eight page fight scene like this, you need to have excellent reader interest in the MC--otherwise we don't care what happens to the MC and won't want to read more. I also don't know enough about the 'test', and the 'Approval' is nebulous for half the chapter.

I think laying a bit more groundwork early on, without an infodump so just working it into a narrative, would help a lot. You characters don't have a lot of dialogue at this stage. Maybe trying putting in some banter to help give information and move the narrative along.

 

As I go

- just one paragraph in, and this is a much stronger start!

- what is a winning or losing direction? Are you trying to imply like, a direction looking into the sun maybe? Uphill?

- pg 2: fallen for her taunt <-- I don't understand. Fallen for a fake? Or she was being taunted by a sword?

- I'd suggest not having both your starting characters' names start with 'M'. It's making it harder than it needs to be to separate them in paragraphs

- pg 3: I think it's too early to get introduced to the BFF if it's just another fight scene. By this page I'm ready for progression, not the same scene but with different characters, especially when I'm only lightly invested in the first set of characters (it being early in the narrative)

- Approval? Need more info on this, since it's a generic word, generally. What are they hoping for? It looks like getting an 'Approval' is the main goal of our MC, so it would be nice to know what all it entails so the reader can mentally establish a through line

- pg 4: the info dump about elves could be better delivered, I think. We get it as an impression when I think it would come across better as 'hearing' part of the lecture and having Mad's thoughts as it goes.

- pg 5: okay so at this stage I am confused. What is Approval? Why are they watching their prof meditate?

- pg 6: I think your story actually starts around here, with this trial of sorts

- pg 7: motivation established: more power because parents were powerless. It's fairly cliche and I'd suggest maybe going more with the wanting to be in the black thorn and just using the repository to get there (undercover? illicit learning?). The premise right now isn't engaging to me because it feels very over done. This isn't to say you couldn't do a fantastic job! But there needs to be some bigger hook, something grand or unique, to hook a reader into an old tale. Right now this has a 'sword and sorcery of Hogwarts' kind of feel, but without the wonder and depth.

- pg 8: the talk about fighting is really dragging down the narrative. I think you could cut a lot of this in the middle

- pg 15: the fight is too long, I feel, for where we are in the narrative and what we know about the characters. In order to care about the MC being hurt, I need to care about the MC. I have some interest from the opening page, but not enough for eight pages of fight scene. I also don't understand the stakes and world enough to get invested. What is the test? Why does it matter? What does it have to do with the MC's overarching goal of...general power (which in and of itself isn't building much buy-in, either)?

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All of this is very much improved over last time--good job on the rewrite!

I'll agree with @kais on pretty much all points. Need character buy-in for a long fight scene, and still need to trim this down a lot to get rid of extra fluff. This could be a really good 5-6 page intro chapter to hook people into the story.

Also, there's a lot of punctuation hiccups, between commas missing, dialogue in the wrong place, run-on sentences, and so on. If you haven't, I'd give Strunk and White's The Elements of Style a read. It's a small book, but really useful, even though it's about 100 years old. I recommend it to any starting writing because it helps you leap over the easy stuff and arrive at much cleaner prose.

 

Notes while reading:

Pg 1: much better starting paragraph, but it still gets bogged down with all the specifics. Ma's fighting Mu, she has a greatsword, wants to get the sun in her eyes. Done.
Also, might not want to have to "m" names fighting each other.

pg 2: missing a lot of commas, apostrophes, and periods.

pg 3: lots of names at the top of the page. I don't know who any of them are.

pg 4: "After history had finally been struggled through without falling asleep"
--this is almost painfully passive voice.
--this whole paragraph is doing better, describing the meal, but is still sort of an info dump. When it finally get to the five elements, that piques my interest, but then it goes to a different topic.

pg 5: they keep talking about Approval, but I'm not really sure what it is or does. Is it passing a course? Mastery in a subject? Is the a choice, that M decided to challenge I? Could she have challenged someone else?

pg 5: "this wasn't the test, this could be repeated if needed"
--I'm still confused as to what is and isn't needed to get Approval. This sort of takes the tension out of things, because there aren't any stakes here. They can fail and it doesn't really do anything.

pg 5: "This was a test for Approval"
--But you just said this wasn't the test...confused.

pg 6: "I will fight with only my fists unless I can disarm one of you"
--If he disarms them then does he start to fight with weapons??

pg 6: "running her mind through what it meant to be a Black Thorn."
--stares in InfoDump.

pg 8: Confused on who is taking ranged and who is taking melee. If two people speak, it needs to be in different paragraphs.

pg 8-9: too much about choosing the weapons. This can be cut down a lot.

It takes from page 5 to 10 to actually start the fight, once in I's presence. This should be a couple paragraphs at most, to keep things moving.

And the fight is page 10-13, but at this point I'm skimming. It's a very blow-by-blow account. One secret of fight scenes in books is that we don't actually care that much about what the participants are doing. The reader cares about how the character is affected by the fight. You can strip out a lot of the X did Y by Z and add more emotion of how M felt by being trounced by I, and how K couldn't help. The tense part isn't how hurt they get, it's whether they pass or fail the test.

pg 14: "and by doing so, my debt to you has been paid"
--this is more interesting to me than the entire fight.

pg 15: "You have got my Approval to take the test."
--much better arc to the chapter, but I'm still confused about testing. This was just to get approval to test? Then what's the test? How does that tie in with the rest of their learning?

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I am pretty much in the same place as @Mandamon and @kais -- this is a big improvement, but I'm still lacking good reasons to care about these characters. 

This is a much more dynamic start, for sure. I am more invested the characters at the beginning. However, a protracted fight scene is not the easiest way to convey character personality and I end up losing interest in the fight as it progresses. As kais and Mandamon have said said, I need to know why these characters are fighting in order to care about the fight for very long. Action is interesting, but action without knowing who is fighting and why (what they hope to gain, what they want to prevent, why they have come to blows), is fighting that becomes boring quickly.

Think about for example, the Princess Bride's fight scenes versus a Michael Bay Transformers action sequence. When we care about the characters and know what they're fighting for, we are far more invested in the outcome. The Princess Bride leads with characters' personality and motivations, and the early action sequences are short, without a lot of extraneous details, and often punctuated with dialogue that reveals motivations and personality without having to state things directly. Transformers' action sequences happen frequently right from the beginning, go on for a very long time, and it's unclear what any one of the participants gets out of the fight other than vague ideas about "good guys fight bad guys."  The fights could be between just about any robot in Transformers, but it's really difficult to think of a fight from the Princess Bride done by anyone other than the characters involved in it. 

I am also getting a bit snowed over by the sudden influx of names and terms with nothing for me to latch onto about them. Names and terms are important, but throwing out too many at once without explanations and reasons for the reader or protagonists to care about them (that "why" and "who's affected" again), I feel like can weigh down the story and make it difficult for me to get immersed in what's going on. If an explanation is going to be coming later, that's fine, but then that one term or name to-be-explained-later I feel like needs to be the only one asking me to wait at that particular time. Otherwise, at a certain point, my brain just has too many bookmarks waiting on later explanations and it just lags out. And then i'm getting up suddenly to do the laundry or feed the cat and I'm not quite sure why I stopped reading.  (And the cat does not need that many treats.)

The information about M's family and the destruction of her home town is great! I'd love to have the information about the magic bounty hunters be told to me through that lens. How does seeing one of these people at her test make M feel? What did it feel like when they swept through her town too late to save her parents? Does she blame them for her parent's death? What would that make her do? Does she want to impress this one and that makes her reckless? Is she going to be distracted watching this guy instead of her fight? Is she shaking because of the memories and physical sensations seeing one of these guys brings up? I want to know about M: the fight is almost secondary, a vehicle through which I can learn about M and K.

If the start is with a fight scene, I think this one would be much better. It's more important to the characters, and therefore, I care about it much more, plus I feel like it has more of a chance to tell me things about these characters -- their relationships, their values, their personality. It's also a fight with a clear purpose, even if I"m still not clear on what exactly that purpose entails. After I know who these people are, after I've figured out why I want to read more about them, then I'd be more willing to follow them through a normal school day (because magic schools are my jam and I am interested in this one).

This is still a big improvement. Keep it up!

 

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Posted (edited)

Hi, Mr. Squid,

So sorry it's taken me so long to get to your sub. I hope that a fresh perspective (having not read the first version) will be valuable. So, here we go.

(page 1)

- Straight into action: I like that. Two character names starting with M seems a bit clunky, and... unnecessary? I feel that anything that can be done to reduce scope for confusion is worth doing.

- Capital 'P' in Professor Ir, as 'professor' is his title.

- "had been partly blunted" - Suggest cutting this. Certainty and exactness are always more compelling than vagueness and doubt. Blunted on its own still works, IMO, and till applies, even if the blade is not totally and completely as blunt as it can possibly be.

- "yet remained dangerous enough to entice encourage dodging or blocking" - (1) tense, (2) I'd suggest that 'entice' usually is associated with something nice, so it threw me here rather.

- I'm no swordsman, but Ive read enough to be fairly confident that a great sword is not a stabbing weapon, but more of a bludgeoning, crushing, battering weapon, I think.

- "in the healers' care" - depending how many healers there are, you need an apostrophe either before (one healer) or after (multiple healers) the 's', because the care is possessive.

- "They stood about ten feet apart" - numerals in prose, I believe, are to be avoided. Certainly small numbers, and certainly in a fantasy setting. I think in the vast majority of published fantasy you will see one to ten, maybe even a hundred, maybe even thousands, written as words. I think it's general accepted that is good form, and better evokes a falsity setting in particular. In SF, I think the 'rules' are different, but even then, there's much to recommend using words for small numbers as I think the prose will flow better, and look less like factual / technical writing.

- "holding the handle hilt of the blade" - If you're going to write fight scenes, I'd urge you to read fight scenes (many of them) and absorb the technical language that goes with them. It's hard enough to write a compelling fight scene and not end up with pages of boring hacking and slashing, but know the terminology and how to use it is vital, IMO, in order to be convincing and entertaining. Always aim to know more than your audience, I think is probably a sound maxim. That may mean doing a lot of research.

- "greatswords" - Okay, I won't go on about it, but you need to use apostrophes where there is a possessive element. Do you have spell check and grammar checker turned on? If not, I would urge you to use them. Even at this level of drafting, you will get better critiques from folks if they are not jolted out of the story with typos (just saying ;) ).

- "M who—in mid charge couldn't dodge—got slammed..." - It's worth making some study of punctuation generally, in this case 'n dash' and 'm dash'. I actually like the Wiki page on punctuation, which covers all the family favourites (colon, semi-colons, etc.) really quite well as a starting point. Also, if you looking at trying to get published, I think it's a good idea to start as soon as possible working with correct / accepted publication format. Different publishers have there own particular likes, but this is a good place to see the generally accepted industry norms, I have found:    https://www.shunn.net/format/story.html 

- "the flat end of the blade" - the flat side of the blade, surely?

(after page one) - So, I'm going to post this up for starters, and go back to reading the rest. I'll try to stay away from grammar and things, as I think maybe I could spend a lot of time talking about that, and get distracted from the story proper. It's good to get action on the first page. What I would say is that I have, on Reading Excuses alone, read many, many opening scenes that starting with sparring. Training session / basic training / apprenticeship is a really common trope. I think it's lost a lot of its shine because of this.

I'll press on with the rest of the submission and hopefully get complete comment back to you before the end of the day. Thanks for sharing! (I would normally critique straight through, but I'm just so keen to get something back you after such a long delay :) ).

Edited by Robinski
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(page 2)

- I've moved over to providing minor comments in the document (tracked changes / comments), and will email those Line By Line comments (LBLs, as we like to call them) back to you, just putting the more significant things in the forum here.

- "Even blunted the edge of the blade sunk into both her exposed shoulders and left a deep scratch across the leather shirt that covered the skin between them" - (1) A scratch is a really minor thing, and does not sound very exciting in the context of a sword fight. (2) A deep scratch seems like a contradiction in terms. A scratch, by definition, is a shallow surface injury, I would say. Using the word 'wound' would be more exciting and compelling in the context of a sword fight, I would say. And you can still have minor wounds.

- "she’d managed to wound M" - I know you said Mu was a good swordsperson at the start of the piece, but I didn't get a strong impression there was a great gulf of skill between them. This here thought it a good line, and says something about the stakes of the sword fight. I just think there needs to be a better impression at the beginning of the fight that Ma is totally the underdog and it would be really unlikely that she would put a scratch on Mu. We need to know more about the stakes of the fight at the start. Not what the aim is, but what will the fallout be. Is Ma's place in sword school at stake; does she need to win to get to the top of the class, to pass annual test. I just felt there was not that much riding on this fight.

- "M sat down frowning..." - Just an observation, I have almost no sense of setting. There was mention of a field, and maybe one of two small environmental details, but I don't now how to picture the scene. I know little about how the characters appear, are they on a parade ground, in a forest clearing, a rolling hillside. It's not absolutely necessary to have these things, but the 'picture' is a lot greyer in the absence of description of the setting. Good writing advice (I think) is you describe details using multiple sense. It's easy to go overboard with description, but like almost everything, it's a balance, IMO.

(page 3)

- "wondered how he could get these two an Approval" - The thing is, I know very little about the set up. I don't know if they are in military school, a private academy, if they are slaves training to go into the gladiator pit. I don't know enough about the situation to be able to place these references to specific things into the framework of the setting, because I don't know what that framework is.

- "four hour period" - Meh. I just don't think that's practical on any level. Most students can't maintain attention for an hour, never mind four. I would think this model would have been a spectacular failure after they operated it for a few weeks. 

- "could do magic" - This is not history, IMO. History is the study of specific historical events. Yes, they can be examined for different interpretations, but 

(page 4)

- Slipping into present tense at the start of the page is not consistent with the rest of the piece.

- "Considering the physical fortitude required to be a caster" - This is the first reference to the fact that anyone wants to become a caster. If they want to be casters, why are they learning swordplay? But then perhaps they don't have a choice. Certainly it sounds that way. I just don't know enough about the set up: where they are; why they're there; are they there voluntarily? I'm getting frustrated at the lack of real, concrete information that I'm given.

- "you became a caster" - But, at the start of this paragraph, I believe the wording implies that they are attempting to become casters, not that they are casters already, which seems to be what this is saying.

- "There was only one difference, skill in the five elements" - I'm not sure what this means. If it means there is only one thing differentiating the students, well, that can't quite be true, because we've just heard about all their different potential social standings.

- "how some people could wear this all day" - Not totally clear. Does she mean wear armour all day?

(page 5)

- "This was a test for Approval" - Bit confused, as it says in the same paragraph that 'this wasn't the test'.

(page 6)

- "if I give you Approval to take the test" - Oh, I thought Approval was the ultimate level.

- "or even kill you" - I would say that is not really in the senes of disabling, which implies some residual level of ability.

(page 7)

- "running her mind through what it meant to be a BT" - This comes over as a very deliberate info dump. There is a nicely tense situation here going into this test, and there's a great big chunk of background information that dissipates all the tension.

- "Become a force of good" - This is a very noble goal for a character to have, but it's also really, really common trope. For me, it's just not that interesting anymore. "expanded her goals" - Ah, okay, that is a bit better.

(page 8)

- "make it count when he did" - But if he thinks it unlikely, then the chance are that he won't. This didn't make sense to me.

(page 9)

- "The long thin blades" - This sentence ids way too long. Needs to be broken up with punctuation, and certainly into two sentences.

- "he could use any weapon on the wall" - Eh? I don't think that logic follows at all. If she throws a dagger at him then he can use the dagger, but I don't see how that gives him access to anything on the wall.

(page 10)

- "like she was no longer a student, but an equal" - Nope. In the first fight that we saw, M had pretty much no skill at all that I could see. I do not believe that just because she knows some old custom this expert fighter and teacher is going to afford her anything even close to parity with him. Moments like this, and it's not a bad moment of connection between two people, but they have to be earned by the characters and the story. M hasn't earned anything, yet, IMO.

- "stood in the middle of the field" - I'll note my issue with description and setting again. They are in a field: is it day, night, dawn, dusk? What are the light levels? How can there be a shadow in the corner for the BT to lurk in, if they are out in the open? It's just not possible to picture the scene, but very little detail can give the reader something to go on. e.g. 'Bright, early morning sun bathed they grassy field in gold, the distant buildings setting long black shadows. From one of these, the BT stepped into the light.' Just a few words can give the reader a much stronger visual impression.

(page 11)

- "perfect shot" - Eh? I don't believe this. Even through sheer luck, I don't believe it. He must be 100 time more likely to hit M and I anywhere else.

(page 12)

- "The sharp edge of her blade" - But it's been carefully trailed through the chapter so far that the blades are blunted.

- "screamed in pain" - How can she do this with blood in her mouth?

- "She could see the arrow" - She cannot see anything if someone is repeatedly pounding an elbow into her face. This reads like a movie fight, and that makes it unconvincing, because movie fights are, for the most part, completely nonsense when set against any measure of reality. 

- "clinging to life" - I'm not sure I really buy this either.

- "she could see the sea of arrows" - confused.

(page 14)

- "it didn’t require any magical healing" - Eh? It's pretty much certain surely that there are bones broken in that hand. Think of all the different bones in your fist. Look at an X-ray of a hand. I don't believe this.

(page 15)

- "the arm he no longer had" - I don't understand. Was this missing limb described before? I don't remember. I don't think I missed it, in which I really think it needs to be set up before it is payed off like this.

- "inhale" - this is a verb, the noun is 'inhalation'.

- "You have got my Approval" - Meh. The one thing that saved her was luck, and not even really her's. Rewarding luck seems dangerous to me, because a soldier can't rely on luck, nobody can.

Overall 

There are certainly tense and quite exciting moments in this opening chapter. Sure, there are plenty of editing quibbles, but that's the same for anyone's early drafts, mine very much included, so that is not a criticism, just an observation to keep an eye on them. I also mentioned the set up. The training / trial by combat is a very old and well-used trope. In my opinion, combat tends to be innately boring, and the way to make it interesting is through character and unexpected shifts. I thought you managed that fairly well. I think you need to set up the arrow shot better. I don't luck alone can explain K making that shot. He could shoot for ten lifetimes and never make that shot. It must be a million times more likely that he would hit either of the combatants anywhere else.

I mentioned about description. I really think that some scenery, as it were, would serve the piece well. Make me feel that I am in that location, feeling the warm breeze, narrowing my eyes against the low morning sun and smelling the cut grass from the groundskeeper cutting the combat field the day before. It will make those blows landing more convincing, I think.

To character then, which is absolutely the most important thing about any story, IMO. Ma is okay, but I don't have enough sense of where she's come from and what her goals are. That does come in small doses through the piece, but I need a reason to root for her from the first line (okay, maybe second or third). Dead parents: it's just the most boring and predictable trope in the galaxy. I bet if someone did a survey, 95% of all protagonists would have dead parents. It's possible to do it, or course, but it doesn't really mean anything anymore, IMO, it's just an excuse for the author not to have to deal with a character's parents, but there are other ways to handle that. Howard Tayler of Writing Excuses espoused the theory of low-hanging fruit, which I think is an excellent and useful one. Too many new authors pick the first thing that comes into their head and move on, but so often that is the most obvious and boring thing. Don't take the first idea-plum, don't take the second one either, reach for the third one, the fourth one; tax your imagination to come up with a more interesting solution for the (in this case) question of why Ma is in this place with no parents support.

Ma comes over as a very standard character. She has noble goals to do good. She seems fairly competent, fairly committed, fairly stubborn. Fine, but give us something we've never seen in a character before, or hardly ever. Something different that makes the reader go 'Oh, that's interesting/weird/unexpected', and more importantly, 'I have to read on now to find out how she's going to get through this by being blind in one eye / missing two fingers on her left hand / suffering from Tourette syndrome.

LBLs emailed back to you.

I think this has scope, but I'd like it to be more investing, more gripping in terms of character. I think it's a decent start though, for an early draft.

I hope that these comments are helpful. Sorry for the delay and missing out on the first version :) 

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2 hours ago, Robinski said:

LBLs emailed back to you.

When did yo usend them? I haven't received them, and i checked all inboxed :)

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23 hours ago, killersquid said:

When did yo usend them? I haven't received them, and i checked all inboxed :)

Sorry again, Squid. I had not sent them after saying that, but I hope you got them when I sent them through last night (GMT).

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On 22/03/2020 at 8:23 AM, Robinski said:

- "could do magic" - This is not history, IMO. History is the study of specific historical events. Yes, they can be examined for different interpretations, but 

Sorry, I just noticed that I did not finish this thought!

What I meant to say is that it felt they were discussing applications of magic, rather than what I would think of as historic events (like the Battle of Hastings, or something like that).

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Sorry I'm late commenting! This is definitely an improvement from last time. I no longer feel so overwhelmed and I was a lot more engaged with the story. However, I think you went from telling readers too much to not giving them enough. I don't need big paragraphs of text explaining things, but little details interspersed  throughout the chapter would be nice along with more dialogue and description of the setting to give us a better sense of the character. 

"Ma... stood at the ready...." Much better opening line! 

 I'd work in the details about the family sword when Ma is studying how Mu is holding the sword instead of where you have it. Just wait another paragraph before you start giving us backstory. 

"...take it seriously" A sentence or two about what is at stake might be good here. Why is it so important to take it seriously? 

 

On 3/16/2020 at 2:31 PM, kais said:

Maybe trying putting in some banter to help give information and move the narrative along.

The duel would be one place you could add banter! It would give readers a better idea of the characters' personalities and make them care more about the duel. 

"Ma... knew he couldn't give approval..." Here, you add a line or two about what this means. 

"wash...and change..." You don't necessarily have to skip this. A scene of dialogue with some description of the room could be a good way to reveal some information about the characters. Just keep it short and make sure it has a clear purpose that moves the story forward. 

When you get to the history class, I'd some description of the classroom and the other students. Think about what kind of details your mc would notice walking into the room, when getting bored by the lecture.

When we get to the place they eat, again, add more imagery, more about the sounds and the smells and what is being served. I love food description. While doing this, weave in dialogue and world building. 

One thing I try to focus on in revision is giving each scene a beat. What is the purpose of this specific scene? What does the character want in that scene? What happens to stop the character? Do they get what they want? How? How does that move the plot forward? 

As we get closer to the test, give us a little more about approval and what it means for M, just in very small increments. 

More description of the instructor as Ma approaches would be good. 

 I didn't make any comments during the last fight scene. I was engaged with it, excited to know what happens next. 

Overall, this was much better, but I think you took out too much. Very purposefully incorporating a little more relevant description and world building will go a long way. Just keep it in small increments and try to avoid big batches of it all at once. 

 

When I revise, I tend to fall into patters of overcompensating, either taking out to much or adding too much. Sometimes I zigzag a lot before I find the right balance. 

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I'm late on this, as I'm catching up on all critiques from the last few weeks.

I am excited to read your work again! I'm glad we didn't scare you off :)

As per usual, I did not read anyone else's critiques before I jumped in. It's been several weeks since I read the original, so I'm hoping I'm looking at this with good, fresh eyes.

Thoughts as I go:

Pg 1, "could land her in the healers care for a good few weeks": Definitely not where I would want to be! It's crazy how even a minor injury in the past could lead to infection and death. Imagine dying from a practice sword! 

Pg 1, "The two took their starting positions, neither facing the winning or losing direction." I was wondering if the scene would start better in the middle of the fight, but I changed my mind after this paragraph. I think it is important for the reader to see how Mu is not taking this fight seriously, even from the beginning. You made a good choice.

Pg 2, "Mu was taking this seriously, she’d just fallen for her taunt": Oh, ho ho. I though Mu would be the average school bully kind of character, but she is proving to be intelligent and resourceful. I underestimated her.

Pg 2, "Over several long, sweat-stained minutes Ma attempted to break through.": As a reader, thank you for not spending pages upon pages describing several minutes of fighting.

Pg 2, " A strong hand grabbed Ma's braid and yanked her back.": I am tempted to say cheating, but maybe honor doesn't matter here.

Pg 3, " across the leather shirt that covered the skin": May I suggest a leather jerkin instead of shirt? Jerkins are traditionally sleeveless.

Pg 3, "When just four students were left to battle he started trembling with fear.": I'm surprised he hadn't been trembling in fear the entire time. If I have to go to the dentist's, I'm shaking like a leaf the night before, the morning of, during, and after while I shove my mouth full of Oreos. 

Pg 3, "The following duel was…awkward to say the least." How was it awkward? Were they tripping over their own feet? Whacking themselves with their weapons instead of their opponent? Accidentally hitting each other in the privates? I bet you can really make us cringe in a rainbow of ways. 

Pg 3/4, " the entire four hour period": Okay, I'm going to speak from personal experience here. In college I did three hour classes and they were horrible. I'm not talking about labs where you got to do things, but lectures. I had six hour classes once a week for a month, but even those were split into two three hour segments. I have no clue how old these characters are (or what they look like), but it's hard for senior college students to sit in a three hour class. So, if these characters can sit through a four hour lecture, show me how they can manage it. 

Pg 4, "She still needed to get Approval for history": This is the third time I have heard this word, but I don't think I can give a solid definition on what one is...???

Pg 4, "required to be a caster": M and K are casters, and are therefore magical, yes? How does the brutal physical training come into this? Does casting require physical prowess? 

Pg 4, " once you enrolled in the classes, you became a caster": Is there a test that needs to be taken? A tuition that needs to be paid? Are casters common? Or incredibly rare? Who runs this school? Is it private or government run? These are not all questions that should probably be answered in the first chapter, but should be hinted at. For instance, if it is government-funded or run, what does M think about that? Does she love her government, or is she against it?

Pg 4, "There was only one difference, skill in the five elements": Unclear. Is this the difference between the average person and a caster? Or the different casters at the school? What are the five elements? Do they have any basis on the traditional four?

Pg 5, "Keeping up her hope that challenging professor I for Approval had been the right choice," When had this occurred?

Pg 6, " I will fight with only my fists unless I can disarm one of you." Well, as soon as he gets a weapon, they're toast.

Pg 7, "a clear sign he was under the effects of continuous magic." Why would someone use magic continuously? To strengthen themselves? Make themselves not age? What can casters do?

Pg 7, " they were elite hunters of ancient magic" Then why is this important fellow observing a match between two lower-level students?

Pg 7, "available to all without torturing yourself": If one has to torture oneself to become a caster at the R, show me how brutal it is. 

Pg 8, "D-Do you want to fight him or shall I?" I think both of them are fighting him. The question is more of, who wants to go hand-on-hand with their teacher?

Pg 9, "He had chosen a thick bow, made entirely from a single horn": The bow is made of a horn??? What kind of animal can give a flexible enough horn to be used for a bow? This is a good opportunity for world-building, if you have any fictional creatures with bendable horns. Otherwise, bows are traditionally made out of wood.

Pg 9, "Meaning technically if he took a dagger off her, he could use any weapon on the wall.": Well, that's tricky language. I took that as meaning he could use any weapon that he took from them, not, he took a weapon, now he can go to the wall and grab any weapon. This fight is rather unfair against these two, low-level students. 

Pg 10, " like she was no longer a student, but an equal, even if her skill remained to be proven": Are the old ways usually frowned upon, or rare knowledge, or something? Why was a gesture of honor so important to I?

Pg 10, "And sadly, not a particularly good one." These students are going to get their butts handed to them, especially K. Why would I respect M for the ritual, but not K? Because she started it? Does I view K as a total disgrace?

Pg 12, "She simply wouldn't be able to stay standing or hold her blades.": I need to see more of M and K's character, because right now, I find myself reading this with the same emotion I might have when I randomly turn on a soccer game. I don't know enough about the trial to be invested, I don't know enough about the characters to root for either one of them. Gimme someone to root for, with something important enough to catch my attention. 

Pg 12, "the perfect shot flew past her, the sharp tip of the arrow": Wait, I thought K was practically useless. How on Earth did he manage to land a perfect shot? A fluke like this on a target I might accept as pure luck, but a moving target and not hitting one's friend? I would have accepted this easier if it nearly hit M and managed to get I in the thigh or foot or something. 

Pg 13, "clinging to life she now feared losing": If I isn't going to make her submit, but kill her, he isn't the type of teacher I thought he was. Why would he kill her? His motivations? Do students often get killed at this school? What kind of school is this?

Pg 14, "Her nose, cheekbone and knee snapped back into place," Ooooh, V is here as a healer. I was wondering why an archaeologist made a good referee.

Pg 14, "my debt to you has been paid": Hmmm, interesting...

Pg 15, "The second was that both he and the cloak had shrunk," Does casting magic place limitations on one's body? Was V using continuous magic to make himself taller?

Pg 16, "You have got my Approval to take the test": What test? What does completing that test accomplish? Did K pass?  

Overall:

Much better than the original! I hope that you can feel the satisfaction of improving. If not, give yourself a pat on the back from me, an internet stranger. A good solid pat on the back, not a pathetic, flapping weak one. Good job, my friend! I'm glad we didn't scare you off. 

In my opinion, I think that your next step is learning what to trim, and what to give extra detail. For instance...where is this all happening? Is this the stereotypical medieval English countryside? A Japanese-inspired forest? A flower-dotted mountain hillside? The cool, grassy tundra? The beauty of writing is that we all have imaginations, so even a couple of sentences can have dramatic effect. Are M and K twelve? Sixteen? Eighteen? Even a hint about their looks can add a lot to a setting by using people's ingrained stereotypes. I personally keep several Pinterest boards full of inspiration, some for characters, others for the setting, the architecture, the food, the fashion. I am not that creative, and I find it helps with descriptions. 

I would love to see more of who M and K are. I've seen the barest of hints, like smelling cookies but not being allowed to taste or even see them. I'm hungry, so I'm going to continue with this metaphor. Personally, I like first chapters that let me know exactly what kind of cookie a character is, and promise me that if I keep reading, those characters are going to be delicious. What are M and K? Chocolate chip? Snickerdoodle? Peanut butter? How do they talk? What are their interests? Worries? Motivations?

I need to eat something. 

Last tip is that you aren't writing a screenplay. You don't need a shot-by-shot action scene. Writing Excuses on action scenes: https://writingexcuses.com/2011/03/27/writing-excuses-5-30-writing-action/  The typical chapter is 2,500 words. What is really important to your first chapter, that it must be in there? 

I can't wait until your next submission! Don't let us intimidate you, and use everything mentioned in the critiquing thread, got it? I want to see more from you. 

Now, if you will excuse me, I'm going to grab some dinner before I write more food-oriented metaphors. 

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