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JWerner

5/11/20 - Reduced to Essentials - 2442 words (L, V, G)

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Welp, lemme know whatcha think.

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Hey, JW, interested to read your story. We are not getting many short pieces at the moment.

(page 1)

- First things that pops straight away is formatting. If you are going to sub this for publication is has to be formatted correctly. The publishers all have their own little foibles, but there are requirements for first page. I tend to send folks to https://www.shunn.net/format/

- First paragraph: I'm willing to suspend my disbelief that she could have been in a battle and not know she was pregnant. A colleague of mine got a call at work to say his girlfriend had given birth, and he had not known she was pregnant. Neither had she, she thought she was putting on weight. They talk about seeing people go white as a sheet, but I've seen it. It's weird. So, skipping past that, the thing that puts me on edge is the voice. There are some nice touches, like wrapping the infant in a banner: I liked that, BUT...

- You were asking in your email about why it might not have gained traction in a short competition run by a local library? I think the answer is right there in your first chapter. I presume that the competition was not a genre competition, but open to all entries? That being the case, but even if it is not, and it was a SFF competition (or judged in separate categories), that character voice in your first chapter is not engaging, IMO. It's quite distancing because of his negative it is to the infant. And that is all summed up in the phrase 'sh1ting out', which is pretty nasty. Maybe it goes to character, and that's fine, but I don't think you're going to win any library compassion with a character like that.

- Who was going the judging, the librarians? If so, see above. 

- "fugue" - Way, way too strong a word, IMO. She's a bit distracted. Fugue has a medial definition, I think.

- I was at my daughters birth, my only experience of childbirth other than watching TV, etc. But, it feels to me like the story is selling short how tired L would be afterwards. Not to mention the potential for medical complications. What about the placenta? That needs to be passed, and the umbilical cord cut. It sounds as if she has done that, but if she didn't know what to do, how did she know to do that? My disbelief in relation to her being able to fight her way off the battlefield immediately after giving birth is stretch pretty thin.

(page 2)

- "deserved that much" - I see no evidence that she deserves anything. I'm not rooting for her as a character.

- I think that's too heavy for a claymore, for a little bit of research online. 

- "Her legs felt like they were hewn from rock" - I'd have thought more like jello, no strength, weakened from the effort of childbirth.

- She's not very imaginative. I can think of way more than two options, unless she has already thought of and dismissed several more.

(page 3)

- Magic: Hmm, interesting idea. The phrasing of the bargain is rather odd. She's trying to save her own life and the child's, and yet she seems to have just promised to give up her life come sunset. Why would she do that if she is fighting to survive? Or, I have misunderstood the bargain she offered.

- Doesn't sound to me that she didn't have time to draw, rather that she was unable to draw it because of the contractions.

- I'm confused between the references to luck and mercy. God had doled out luck today, and therefore was out of mercy? Seems confused.

- I don't know what "Well" is supposed to imply or convey. I don't know what her emotion is here.

- "Four men emerged from the silver murk" - I have no real sense of blocking. I know she went up a slope, but I don't know what her surroundings are now. I think it's a bare hillside, but I'm not sure. If so, men emerging from the mirk, she would hear them coming long before she saw them, surely?

- "They stopped when they saw her" - Kind of underwhelmed by the language in place, and here is an example. They 'stopped', compared to, say 'They pulled up, startled at the sight of her.' I just feel the narrative could convey more emotion, tension, conflict, etc.

(page 4)

- "last of the bargains" and "forever lost to her" - I'm not clear yet on how the magic works. is it a three wishes and you're out kind of deal? I don't know yet. I'd prefer to know more if she is going to use magic to solve her problem, but it sounds maybe as if she is not.

- Some of the language / grammar is off, but I'm not doing lie-by-line stuff here.

- I don't think the spear was 'warbling'. Typo, I think.

- "the head it was plastered onto sailed free of its neck" - took me three reads of this line to get the meaning.

- "gravity had acquired a particular fondness for her arms" - rather tortured metaphor, IMO.

- If they are running uphill, and she is above them, their spears can't be pointed level, which equates to horizontal.

- "They weren’t much older..." - This whole sentence is rather wordy, and feels like it's dragging the point, to me.

(page 5)

- "green behind the ears" - Is this intentionally wrong on her part? The phrase is 'wet behind the ears' when used in reference to new recruits.

- "introduced her knee to his face" - LOL.

- "lost to the cold shroud" - don't know what this means.

(page 6)

- Minor observation, but since there is only one female in the scene, you can use her name less. I think it makes the narrative more engaging, and slicker, if you use 'she', and maybe only mention her name once or twice per page. We know it's L. The more you use her name, the more awkward it sounds/reads.

- "Close enough to strike" - he's already struck, this is him trying to drive the blow home. I don't consider this to be striking, as such.

(page 7)

- "then vanished into the mists" - Eh? No, I don't believe this. This reads very like author intervention. Any kind of warrior would finish her off; slit her throat to ensure she is dead, but he leaves her still alive. I could put this down to him being a bad soldier, but we've already established that they were not callow youths, and had experience of the battlefield. I don't believe this.

- "confused-looking daughter" - and infant less than an hour old is not capable of showing emotion.

- "with a look of understanding" - This is very sudden, his change of motivation. I struggle to believe it.

- "moss sprouting across her body" - Oh, wow. It really is going to end that way. I'm struggling with this. At the time she made this bargain, she basically traded her life--which was entirely viable at the time--for a few hours of life. What was the point of that? What was the point of her trying to escape if she knew she would die at sunset because of the bargain. At the time, she was not trying to save the child, because she progressed to feel nothing for her.

- I'm pretty sure moss and lichen are different things. Not sure it's right to use both words here.

(page 8)

- "cavernous nostrils flared with a renewed scream" - Ooh, this is a really ugly image. Nostrils are not nice, and I don't want the story to finish on this when trying to create (I think) what is intended to be an uplifting moment, on some level.

Overall 

It's a pretty decently written fight seen. It has some blips and ticks, and could be smoother in places. The thing is, it's still basically just a fight scene. It looks at the story that--despite the unlikable voice of the main character--the story might be going somewhere interesting, but there is then there are, what, 4 or 5 pages of a fight scene, which totally dominate the story. It's not a bad fight scene: I rather like some of the details, it was pretty entertaining, but it feels like it has nothing to day with the theme of the story.

The ending: L is converted. It's not surprising, seems the likely outcome from the pretty much the first page. My biggest comment probably is that there are a number of aspects that did not really hand together or pay off for me: (1) the magic, it seems pretty much irrelevant to the story, a distraction; (2) the plot, fairly obvious. L is so harsh to and dismissive of the infant that it seems about the only place that the story can go; (3) the behaviour of the enemy, not convincing, IMO. They act to suit what the story needs them to do without any particular logic or reason to their actions, particularly the last one. Was it the Childs cry that distracted him? I didn't really get that, timing-wise, but he goes from trying to kill her to not finishing her when he should and then risking his life for a baby of the enemy? Doesn't make a lot of sense to me. 

Add to these issues (that I see, anyway), the fact that I don't think the language / grammar is yet smooth enough to be publishable and I think you are looking at a number of edits (two, three?) before it's read for submission.

I hope this is helpful. Good luck if you choose to sub it.

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This is well written, but I think falls short in a few ways. I have similar thoughts to @Robinski.

First, the magic doesn't seem very useful, or L isn't very good at using it as she basically throws everything away at the first hint of trouble (for the life force of moss, which can't be all that much...), when she doesn't even seem sure whether she wants the baby. Then she throws her sword away as well.

Second, there are several sections in here that are so passive in voice I can't tell what's going on and who's doing what to who.

Third, I'm not sure why the soldiers would adopt the baby, or if she thought they might be sympathetic, maybe show them the baby first instead of entering a death-pact with some moss.

I think if you put some higher risk to the mother and child before all the magic happens, that might make things more believable.

Hope this helps!

 

Notes while reading:

pg 1: Well, the first paragraph is gripping. Visceral and kind of over the top, but gripping.

pg 1: "occasional" repeated in paragraph 2

pg 1: "She needed rest"
--You've said she's outside whatever battle's going on, but is it over? Are there people wandering about? Does she have access to field medics or anything?

pg 2: "she’d used the last of it popping out a kid amidst charging horses."
--I assume she left the charge before it, you know, charged?

pg 2: "but she knew Lip. when she heard it."
--Wait, so she's not Lip. herself? I thought she was in a charge while giving birth? Or was she just around while others were charging? If so, that definitely makes the first paragraph less dramatic!

pg 2: "went through her options, all two of them. Stand and fight, for herself and the child, or die"
--She heard words, but does she see anything? I would assume whoever's coming is close.

pg 3: “Give me your life, and I will give you all of me come sunset,” 
--interesting magic. Also seems a bit overmuch. If she's going to sacrifice herself, why not just do it? Or does she think she can get the baby to safety and come back here before dark? I mean, if she's going to do that, maybe take a tree's life instead, or something bigger than moss.

pg 3: "Four men emerged from the silver murk"
--surprised they haven't appeared before now.

pg 4: "but now that she’d used the last of the Bargains, magic was forever lost to her"
--this also seems...problematic. I don't know anything about the magic system, but certainly there was something else she could have done instead of throwing her life and magic away at the first sign of trouble.

pg 4: "There was a surprised look on his face as the head it was plastered onto sailed free of its neck"
--how did he die? Who killed him?

pg 4: "She lowered the sword and panted hard, lungs aching"
--is this saying L killed him? The paragraph was so passive I couldn't tell who was acting.

pg 5: "she tossed her sword at the lower Lip"
--she really likes getting rid of things that could help her.

pg 6: "A rock buried itself in her upper shoulders."
--was it thrown? Did she fall on it? Did the rock develop he ability to move? There are some very passive passages through here.

pg 6: "The tip was inched nearer, nearer"
--more passive.

pg 6: "Her baby! She’d forgotten all about her!"
--Nope. Don't believe that. The baby is the whole reason she's throwing her life away, I thought. no way she'd lose sight of that.

pg 8: "Her life was now in the hands of the man who had taken L’s own"
--But that couldn't have been her intention...I still don't understand what drove her to cash in on everything at the first sign of trouble.

pg 8: "L wondered what to name her."
--sort of a moot point, isn't it?

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Hi and welcome back!

That's one of the most interesting openings I've ever seen. It was radical enough to nearly throw me off, but worked out. While I felt for L, I didn't care about her, merely her situation which is...interesting? I also have no idea why she doesn't run at that point to save her child. At the same time, I appreciate her death; I get the feeling that most authors would give the protagonist plot armor, and this situation warranted the death.

Again, welcome back, and I look forward to the rest of the novel.

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Overall

Hmm. Some mixed feelings on this. I think the baby was too fussy for a newborn, and there's some instinctual stuff that got overlooked (instinctual even if L wasn't feeling very motherly). I do like the arc, and how L bonds with the kid in the end. It brought up a lot of emotion. The fight went on a tad long I think, noting how much we know about L. I'd have preferred another page building her character so I cared more about the fight and the enemies, and what it meant for the enemy to functionally adopt her daughter.

On 5/11/2020 at 9:03 AM, Robinski said:

"confused-looking daughter" - and infant less than an hour old is not capable of showing emotion.

This is 100% true, because infants that old are generally asleep. Mine didn't even wake up for her vaccinations.

On 5/11/2020 at 9:03 AM, Robinski said:

I'm pretty sure moss and lichen are different things.

YES

On 5/11/2020 at 9:36 AM, Mandamon said:

First, the magic doesn't seem very useful, or L isn't very good at using it as she basically throws everything away at the first hint of trouble (for the life force of moss, which can't be all that much...), when she doesn't even seem sure whether she wants the baby. Then she throws her sword away as well.

I had these issues as well. Is magic needed? Why make that kind of bargain before she knows what she is up against?

On 5/11/2020 at 9:36 AM, Mandamon said:

-Nope. Don't believe that. The baby is the whole reason she's throwing her life away, I thought. no way she'd lose sight of that.

Agreed. For the first, oh, two months or so post birth, my baby was literally the only thing I could think about. And I didn't want the all consuming baby brain, trust me. But even when my mother-in-law came to help and held my kid for like, an hour, I had to go in, crying, and ask to have her back because it had been a whole hour without my kid. Postnatal hormones are weird.

 

As I go

- As a person who has given birth, who is friends with many other people who have given birth...we all tend to be pretty clear that the kid did not originate from our anus. The word 'vagina' gets used with decent frequency, in its raw and glorious form.

- The level of exhaustion after giving birth is intense. I suppose if I was actively being pursued I might have been able to, say, walk down a flight of stairs. Maybe. Mostly, I find the anger hard to connect to because I had a lot of emotions post labor, but anger wasn't one of them. Fatigue was, as was awe, and hunger. 'Don't you stick me with any more needles I swear to god I will beat you with my placenta' was probably the closest I came to actual anger, and it was an empty threat. I wasn't getting out of that bed unless pancakes were involved

- newborn infants are not big criers. It is deeply instinctual to put the baby to your breast post birth (newborns root for nipples right after they come out and will actually raise their heads and crawl up your torso if you let them, even though these things disappear in a few days and don't come back for several months). Newborns mostly sleep, especially those first two to three days. So I would have expected L to put the baby to her breast. And if it was there, no way it was crying. They don't even really need much milk that first day or so. They mostly just...sleep.

- pg 2: the fatigue is better here, but the fussiness of the baby is not. Newborns are a lot of things, but fussy isn't one of them 

- I do appreciate the 'woo a boy or girl' part!

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I don't have much to add. I agree with what the others are saying. I think L is an interesting character and you have a powerful opening but there are a lot of things that do need some fixing like how women and babies are after birth. Since this is L's first baby AND she gave birth in 20 mins, chances are she ripped something in her vagina area. My nephew was born in under an hour and my sister needed stitches (he was her first baby too, so that was nerve wrecking! Most of us where still in the room because we didnt know it was happening so fast!) So she will be way more drained and in pain and probably won't "spring to her feet".

 

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Posted (edited)

The first line got my attention in a "what did I just read" kind of way, which did make me want to read more. But then I read the second sentence, realized it was about childbirth, and was like "no, that's not how it works." 

@kais also commented on this.

I'm not entirely sure how useful a detailed critique from me would be because of some personal reactions I had to the subject matter. I get weird feelings about stories so focused on babies and childbirth, and a majority of the specific notes I made while reading were based on those reactions, which were negative. i'm going to refrain from posting those because I don't really think they'll be useful.  I also don't like stories where the mc dies in the end, but again, that is a personal preference, not a sign of a bad story. 

Being objective as I can, I'd say the change of attitude happened a little too quickly. It was obvious from the begining that it was going to happen, and then it felt rather rushed. 

The battle was very well written. I was engaged throughout the fight and could vividly picture everything.

I didn't fully get the magic. It seemed like a small boost of energy for such a big price. 

On 5/11/2020 at 0:03 PM, Robinski said:

- Magic: Hmm, interesting idea. The phrasing of the bargain is rather odd. She's trying to save her own life and the child's, and yet she seems to have just promised to give up her life come sunset. Why would she do that if she is fighting to survive? Or, I have misunderstood the bargain she offered.

 

I was thinking this too. 

On 5/11/2020 at 0:03 PM, Robinski said:

The ending: L is converted. It's not surprising, seems the likely outcome from the pretty much the first page. My biggest comment probably is that there are a number of aspects that did not really hand together or pay off for me: (1) the magic, it seems pretty much irrelevant to the story, a distraction; (2) the plot, fairly obvious. L is so harsh to and dismissive of the infant that it seems about the only place that the story can go; (3) the behaviour of the enemy, not convincing, IMO. They act to suit what the story needs them to do without any particular logic or reason to their actions, particularly the last one. Was it the Childs cry that distracted him? I didn't really get that, timing-wise, but he goes from trying to kill her to not finishing her when he should and then risking his life for a baby of the enemy? Doesn't make a lot of sense to me. 

 

This sounds spot on.

On 5/11/2020 at 0:36 PM, Mandamon said:

--But that couldn't have been her intention...I still don't understand what drove her to cash in on everything at the first sign of trouble.

 

Same. 

 

I'm sorry I couldn't offer a more detailed critique. 

Edited by shatteredsmooth
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Hello! I haven't critiqued for you before! I hope you find my thoughts useful. I haven't read anyone else's comments.

Thoughts as I go:

Pg 1, "The very last thing L ever expected to do": This was the most unexpected first sentence I think I've ever had the joy of reading.

Pg 1, "her shrieking child...in one arm against her boiled-leather chest-piece," Alright, having a hard time imagining a contracting pregnant woman going to battle then having a baby, but I'll withhold my judgement to see what the story does with this. Maybe it's a cultural thing, like to have a baby on the battlefield makes the baby magically strong or something.

Pg 1, "trouser thighs were still sticky with afterbirth" Don't quote me on this because I've never had a child, but isn't there a lot of blood?

Pg 1, "the smelly thing" I legitimately don't know this, but do newborn babies smell? What do they smell like? 

Pg 1, "Wait and pray to God that She might," Would it not be Goddess then?

Pg 3, "in obsidian-black bark, wielding six-foot-long steel-headed spears" I feel like there is an overuse of words here that aren't necessary. I mean, I think most people know the approximate length of a spear - maybe not exactly - but still. The weight of the swords being mentioned also threw me off. 

Pg 4, "There was a surprised look on his face as the head..." I had to reread this sentence multiple times because I couldn't figure out what was happening. I ended up needing the next sentence to solve this conundrum. 

Pg 5, "batted all three pikes away" Pike, or spear? Those are two different weapons.

Pg 6, "she snorted a spray of blood." I like your action scenes. Very visual, and I can easily follow what is occurring. 

Pg 7, "its blade buried in her up to the cross-guard." Ooooh, that's not gooooood...

Pg 7, "The Bargain was upheld." Let me get this straight: by taking the life of the moss, she would have to die by sunset, yes? So it created a destiny where fate would make sure that she would die by sunset? If she really wasn't connected to the babe, why didn't she just ditch the child and not give her life up for moss? I dunno, I feel like there's some logic problems here...I mean, the moss could have been taken out and the same ending would have happened...

Pg 8, "You have your old man’s nose,” This tugs on my heartstrings. 

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1 hour ago, Snakenaps said:

but isn't there a lot of blood?

There is so much blood. Her pants would be...dissolving. 

1 hour ago, Snakenaps said:

What do they smell like? 

They actually smell AMAZING. Like, the pheromones can actually get you high.

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1 hour ago, kais said:

They actually smell AMAZING. Like, the pheromones can actually get you high.

Seriously??? Man, babies are metal

It's hilarious, because I'm great with elementary school students, but babies kinda terrify me. Like, I know that they are surprisingly durable, but that's a tiny little human being. I am not particularly tall (5'5") but babies make me feel so huge and terrifyingly strong And then they cry and I just kinda panic. 

Now I want to sniff a baby, though. 

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1 hour ago, Snakenaps said:

Now I want to sniff a baby, though. 

99% of the time people don't actually want to hold the baby (well they DO, but they ALSO want to take a hit off its head). Best drug in the world. I'm not a fan of infants (having had my own), but I would hands down hold literally any infant offered, just to sniff its head. 

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10 minutes ago, kais said:

99% of the time people don't actually want to hold the baby (well they DO, but they ALSO want to take a hit off its head). Best drug in the world. I'm not a fan of infants (having had my own), but I would hands down hold literally any infant offered, just to sniff its head. 

This is probably the funniest thing I have read all day XD

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Well, this was a good kick in the teeth if ever there was one. I will mea culpa on the lack of knowledge. The only birth I have ever experienced was my own, and I confess that my recollection of it is more than a bit hazy. Also, I don't know a whole lot about infants. Aaaand I did no research, so there's that. Bad! Bad Jordan!

Overall, this is all fair criticism. If I do revise, it's gonna be much later. I have other stories I need to slack off on. 

Couple replies: 

On 5/11/2020 at 9:36 AM, Mandamon said:

pg 8: "L wondered what to name her."
--sort of a moot point, isn't it?

Probably. I added that after I got lectured by a judge about stories having a beginning, middle and end. It originally just ended on the nose comment from L's end. I thought this would add some finality. 

On 5/11/2020 at 9:03 AM, Robinski said:

the magic, it seems pretty much irrelevant to the story, a distraction

Well, yes. It's there to get L back to fighting shape and that's about it. Also, just to clarify something: "I'll give you all of me come sunset". Obviously, I failed to convey this, but the sunset in question is figurative, not literal. The idea was that the moss would consume her whenever she died, and it just happened to be a couple minutes later. 

On 5/11/2020 at 7:53 PM, Turin Turambar said:

Again, welcome back, and I look forward to the rest of the novel.

Thank you. There's no novel. This is it. (For now.)

Thank you all for the teeth-kicking! It's always appreciated. 

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Hello! I liked the compact nature of your story, that was the classical standard for tragic stories for a long time, one setting and one day.

I was willing to suspend disbelief that a very very pregnant woman would be joining a battle charge in the first place, assuming some pretty interesting and dire motivations must be at play. I was a little disappointed when this isn't explained. You make it pretty clear that this is a super warrior woman, maybe she is just that tough, but I would love to see some nod to what she was doing out there.

Word 'popping' is repeated. Also L reminding the reader that she just gave birth repeatedly doesn't seem nessicary. That fact is most of what we know about her, she is in the midst of dealing with the outcome for the entirety. That might just be my preference.

"He buried the spear head under a rock..." I was a bit confused here. The phrasing seems like he meant to do this and then his head was cut off.

The pact threw me off as well. I took it as foreshadowing that this story was not going to have a happy ending, but it by the end it seems like this was a poor decision from an otherwise competent soldier. 

Side note: have you read "Bones and Stones" a short story by R.A. Salvatore? The tone of your story reminded me of it. I think you might enjoy it. Futility and desperation of battle in a fantasy setting.

Thanks for sharing!

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