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010620 - TheDwarfyOne - Prologue and Chpt 1 - 3174 words

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I would say what happened previously... except nothing has. ;)


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Unfortunately, you’ve given me nothing to go on for reviewing this, I don’t know what kind of story you’re trying to write, and I’m generally not the type of person to read a book before reading the back, inside jacket, and possibly a few reviews online.

And, as it turns out, I really could have used the context.

Thoughts As I Go:

Pg.1 – This appears to be a philosophical discussion on whether or not robots can be good or bad? I sense dwarves and constructs in my immediate future.

Pg. 2 – I count six capitalized words in the first two paragraphs without much context behind them. Not necessarily bad for a prologue, but still…

Pg. 4-5 – I have no idea what’s going on, except there’s a giant monster involved and someone burned down a city.

Pg. 6 – I’m assuming ‘heliophysicist’ is just an astrophysicist?

Pg. 8 – I need more context! I love scientific jargon, but that’s because I can usually understand said jargon. I have no idea what’s being discussed, and I want to.      

Pg. 9 – Hey, it’s a fantasy platypus! I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of those.


It’s very clear that there’s a story here, but I’m not sure what the story is. There are two scientists (or magicians) having a discussion in the first chapter and because they know what they’re talking about and the reader doesn’t, the reader doesn’t have a clue what’s going on. I’m sure you do, as the writer, but as the reader, all I have are guesses and half my guesses don’t make sense here. It would be helpful if I knew the genre here – magic, sci-fi, low fantasy, steampunk, etc. – or the influences that you’re drawing from, but I don’t, so I can’t.

The prologue isn’t helpful either, it doesn’t connect to the first chapter (which isn’t necessarily a problem) so I can’t use either for context on the other. I also can’t figure out if the prologue’s character D is supposed to be a tragic hero, a villain, or something in between.

This is a rough first draft, and a lot of things are unexplained, though I should caution you to be careful for the pitfalls of droning exposition (something I have a tendency to be guilty of). I’d advise you to look this over and try and approach it from the standpoint of a fresh reader so that they can understand what’s happening. This would serve best to be rewritten and resubmitted again. I look forward to that.


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I have quite similar comments to @aeromancer on this on. There was a lot of questioning about various philosophical ideas, but I felt like there wasn't a resolution. I can tell there's some worldbuilding behind all this, but there aren't yet enough hints to draw me in to find out more. We've got some sort of light magic, three suns, primitive robots/AI, a magic stone, orthodox and heretical magic/philosophy, and a shadow platypus, but...I can't find the coherent thread between them all, and I really want to.

As much as I would say to be careful of prologues in modern fantasy, I actually liked this one. It was short, and gives us a sense of a world changing decision in letting the creature go free. But then I don't know what affect that has on the first chapter. Two philosophers talk, but there's not a concrete arc to the conversation.There's not a thesis that says "this is what this book will be about." I would either say you need more of an infodump (which is very rare) here to show how these things connect, or start with a different chapter that better engages the reader before getting into the more philosophical talk.

Looking forward to more, though. I can tell there's an interesting story in there!

Notes while reading: 

Cool epigraph.

pg 3: "At least there are two of us now.”
--Meaning D and H, or is D comparing himself to the creature?

pg 4: "D had never seen it before"
--huh. I got the impression somehow he was familiar with it, but looking back, I guess it didn't say that anywhere.

pg 4: "Their children"
--whose children?

pg 4: "You destroyed the city but not its people"
--except he just talked about killing children.

pg 5: “I’d be glad to leave,” she said."
--this is a quick decision and H goes along with it. Another few lines could explain D's decision a little better and give more important to the decision to (I assume) spare the creature. In fact, I don't think the last paragraph in the prologue is really necessary and It could have a stronger finish by removing it.

pg 6: "heliophysicist"
--interesting profession.

pg 7: "three-sun conjunction in combat manoeuvres"
--confused. What does the sun have to do this combat? Get it in the opponent's eyes? Or is this some sore of magic?

pg 8: "to blackmail him!"
--I wouldn't say this was blackmail. The  physicist will spread a good word if A does him a favor. Fairly standard favor for favor.

pg 8: "The sun Y"
--I would either say have this in the prologue where it's first mentioned, or leave it out. It's pretty easy to guess it's a sun.

pg 9: "pressed its broad bill"
--wait...what's happening?

pg 9: "He’d been lax in removing W’s. Even a scratch could kill, in time"
--Uh...this seems more than lax.

pg 9: "The antidote, Master,”
--ah, at least they have this.

pg 10: "precious metal"
--what precious metal?

pg 10: "A had enough problems without a new enemy."
--He seems very unconcerned for almost killed this guy who has power over him.

pg 10: "We know it reacts to contact with a hagus"
--I can only read this as "haggis"...

pg 10: “We’ll discuss this later,” 
--sort of confused over this whole section.

pg 10, last paragraph: Not sure what's happening here. Is this a flashback?

pg 11: "Anything from the slums..."
--I can guess from the fact that they're called "slums" that they're probably not popular.

pg 11: "Ah, maybe we could discuss the Steel King until you’re feeling yourself?"
--I feel an infodump coming on...

pg 11: "investigated any edge"
--not sure what this means or why it's heretical.

pg 12: "will need to adopt the same policy"
--what policy?

pg 12: "But he couldn’t even bring himself to touch the stone"
--I really don't understand what's going on with the stone. Though I grumped about an infodump above, there wasn't one and now...I sort of want one. There's a lot of stuff here, and I can see there's some good worldbuilding behind it, but the hints are too vague and I can't find the connection between things. I need a bit more to draw me in.


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Posted (edited)

Hey hey, welcome to Reading Excuses! 


I will third @aeromancer and @Mandamon - I don't know what this story is about. There is no real hook, and we get seemingly endless exposition and worldbuilding without stakes and buy in. I think there's the start of a good book here, but at least one character needs to really be pulled out and expanded on, to get reader buy in.

I also had a problem with how the women are portrayed, see comments below. 

We revise and resubmit through here all the time so would love to see a revised version of this!


As I go

- epigraph and a prologue? Suggest that this is too much. Also, I'm not sure if you're seeking eventual publication or not, but know that prologues are very out of fashion right now, and epigraphs are...a fight, at best, with traditional publishing

- pg 2: She smiled, soft and seductive. <--- 8000 warning bells just went off in my head. They're standing in a destroyed city, yes? She just thought he was mad at her, yes? So why is she being seductive? It reads more like he thinks she is being seductive, which makes me generally not like this protag. Also why is his mind on seduction? I thought he felt like he had failed the city?

- pg 3: so she seduced him to show him a sapling? I don't understand

- Now she's asking for his help? I'm confused. This woman is all over the place, but it's so in 'male voice' that it feels more like she is fine, and its our MC that is the problem, in how he is reading her

- oh wait, it was him asking. That paragraph is confusing

- pg 3: Who knows what you’d do by yourself <-- wow there, dude, You just destroyed a city. She produced a sapling and made you feel good about yourself. If she punches you in the throat for that comment, I'm backing her up

- pg 4: It was not the crude creation he had imagined <--- I thought he'd just fought it. How is he only now seeing what it looks like?

- pg 4: Part of what is confusing me is the structural presentation of your paragraphs:

He grunted and held out his arm. A spear of light, vaguely reminiscent of a frozen lightning bolt, formed in his hand. “I will do it,” he said. She touched the spear and it dimmed.

'She touched the spear...' should be a new paragraph. It's mixing character actions, so I end up ascribing the words to the wrong person often, because they are so intermingled

- pg 4: You destroyed the city but not its people <-- he literally just said he killed the children.

- pg 5: she's smirking now? I thought he wanted her help? Thus far H has not yet passed the Sexy Lampshade Test.

- pg 5: also, if he isn't going to kill the giant or whatever, what was the purpose of these pages? I don't know enough about the character to see character growth, and I know nothing about the world

- pg 5: I don't understand how the last bit of the prologue with the giant makers ties in with the first part

- pg 6: this is the second character in as many pages to run fingers through their hair

- pg 7: officially too many names to remember now, since we aren't getting solid grounding in any of them

- pg 7: I am so confused. What are these people talking about?

- pg 9: She was a student from Chasm, where women didn’t decorate or hide their hair. <-- we get a heck of a lot of descriptors about the women, but not on the men. This is very Male Gaze. I'd rather have him think about her skill, than her hair, unless he also thinks about men's hair the same way

- pg 9: She seemed calmer now <--- so when the men were blackmailing and such, they could have emotions and it was cool, but we're down on this lady? This is my Marge Simpson face

- pg 9: The antidote, Master,” she said. “Where is it?” <-- Is she new? Or is she just a terrible assistant?

- pg 11: too much talking. Also not sure why the sting is relevant since he seems to be recovering fine

- pg 12: “Could you see him down the stairs, L?” At said. “He still seems weak.” She grimaced. “Please,” he said. She sighed, then hurried after Ha. The man would probably curse her. <-- What exactly is her purpose? She seems inept at her job and she's being ordered around like a secretary in a healthcare support role. She also clearly doesn't want to, and our MC thinks she could end up being cursed so why is he sending her?

- L also does not pass the sexy lampshade test

Edited by kais

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Chapter one definetly feels like the tip of a huge and well thought out iceberg. There is a lot of depth and richness to the details you use.

Most of my notes have already been covered by others. The prologue was interesting but I couldn't get a foothold in what was going on. It seems like it might need to be a shorter scene with less information like a brief teaser, or the same scenes but with more explaination. 

My biggest confusion is if the prologue MC is looking over his home city, or a city they invaded and destroyed. 

It also struck me that looking over a desolate city was an odd time to be flirting unless the character has a megalomania element (ie: Loki, The Master from Doctor Who, Dr. Smith).

The last line of the prologue also left me a bit baffled since it seems like the MC is both responsible for the robot and suprised by it.

Overall, intrigued and confused. My favorite element is your writing voice. 

Thanks for sharing


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I have not critiqued for you before! Just so you know, I dive in without reading anyone else's comments, that way I am not biased by their opinions.

Thoughts as I go:

Pg 1, " metal head pistons churn gears" Okay, you haven't given me any summary of what to expect in this via email or this post. First real sentence, I'm thinking steampunk, sci-fi, dystopian, modern day, or future genre. 

Pg 1, "a metal body of memory" Alright, I'm leaning steampunk or a future with robots. 

Pg 1, "Like machinery." Alright, we have some mechanical that isn't quite a machine but that has some semblance of consciousness or at least is alive in some context. Said not-machine has been wandering a trench for ages. I'm picturing Howl's Moving Castle.

Pg 1, " The song of the spark" Howl's Moving Castle vibes has increased.

Pg 2, "They called me Protector" The story begins with a man who either has or is going to be fired. Either way, he has obviously failed at his job. Causality number: unknown, but likely high.

Pg 2, " its twisting copper wires severed" Definitely thinking steampunk, or an urban fantasy like Foundryside. We've got a (machine?) monster on the loose?

Pg 2, "A single blow, lord, and the city is ours." Alright, he's fired not for gross incompetence, but because he's betrayed the city he was sworn to protect. Somebody told him it wasn't going to be as bad as it obviously is.

Pg 2, "they needed me at HH." Hmmm...coordinated attacks at multiple places? I'm trying to get a sense of what is going on, but I feel like I have more questions than answers so far. Let's see if any of those questions (who, what, where, when, why, how) get answered. 

Pg 3, "the ruins of the king’s palace" Alright, so we've got a coup going on? More than just a monster escaping?

Pg 3, "You burned it down" Along with a good chunk of the city, by the sounds of it. I'm leaning urban fantasy - the sort that mixes a dash of steampunk with a dash of medieval all placed into a city.

Pg 3, "its roots twining around her fingers" Alright, we've added magic to the mix now. Plant magic at least. 

Pg 4, "It stood taller than a building." How tall is the average building here? A story? Three? Ten? A skyscraper? 

Pg 4, "its eyes were red pinpricks staring from a bronze carapace" I'm getting heavy The Great Library vibes. Still trying to grasp what kind of book this is.

Pg 4, "It was not the crude creation he had imagined" I need more information. Is it in the shape of a man? A woman? A minotaur? An ape? This is an automatron? What does it run on? Is it spewing smoke? Steam? Is it magic based??? Is it destroying things, or is it wandering through the rubble of the city that D burned??? 

Pg 4, "vaguely reminiscent of a frozen lightning bolt" Alright, we've got more magic. Does everyone have magic or is this a rare thing?

Pg 4, " You destroyed the city but not its people." the city evacuated? Everyone except for the king's children? What is going on here???

Pg 5, "He looked back to the giant" So it is man shaped? I am picturing the Iron Giant. 

Pg 5, "Not making the same mistake twice." Killing children is not equal to killing a robot??? Or is he talking about something else???

Pg 5, " refugees throughout the city" So they weren't evacuated???

Pg 5, "Then it was over and silence rolled in" Something blowing up? A teleportation machine? Magic? Is lightening going across the sky normal????

Pg 5, " the giant which they had crafted followed them into the world" So the giant is friendly??? Or at least neutral? Is the giant the thing wandering the Trench? Does someone control it or does it control itself?

Chapter One - Alright, the prologue raised a concerning amount of unanswered questions. Let's see if we can get some answers?

Pg 6, "A dropped his arm, frowning down at the lines of chalk on the floor." Magic involving...hand motion (mental focus) and chalk? Chalk was not needed for the previous two characters. 

Pg 6, " unorthodox devices" What is an unorthodox device in this world? I don't even know what sort of technological time period we are in. I'm beginning to get frustrated, since I feel like I have a new question every paragraph.

Pg 6, "The triskelion wanted answers" The tri-twist Celtic symbol! I remember this from visiting Ireland and Scotland. Is this the name of an organization? A cult? A person?

Pg 6, "running fingers through his hair." What color hair? What does this fellow look like? Is he old? Young? 

Pg 6, "straightening his outfit." What counts as an outfit here? Is he wearing robes? A suit? His pajamas? 

Pg 7, " heliophysicist" A scientist who studies the sun?

Pg 7, "three-sun conjunction" There are three suns in this world? Is this a desert planet? Must be brutally hot.

Pg 7, "The King’s campaign" This must be a new king, since I thought the last king died when the city was burned.

Pg 7, "Some new blasphemy is it?" Stone magic is illegal? Or chalk magic? Or all magic?

Pg 7, "whole detoxification debacle" Erm, like those coffees that make you poop to lose weight, or something else?

Pg 7, "The king was looking for the gods." Okay, so old Steely was the old king who died in the city fire?

Pg 7, "three-sun conjunction in combat manoeuvres" Hold up, does this mean using three suns to blind people, or does this mean using three mirrors to turn sunlight into a melt-everything-beam?

Pg 7, "you know how combat scenarios work." Um, hi there, I don't. Are we fighting with footsoldiers? Tanks? Calvary? Air force? Robots? Magic?

Pg 8, "To purify the slum’s water supply." Okay, that's neat. But why is that heretical? Again, is it all magic or just certain types of magic?

Pg 8, "The man was trying to blackmail him!" But why? Why would you want someone whose name is smeared to write the foreword to your book??? Who's is a heretic? What does this guy get out of it? Why A? Why is A so important?

Pg 8, "The sun" Just one sun? I thought there were three?

Pg 9, " p-l’s soft neck fur" The what now? Google comes up with nothing. Is this like a platypus crossed with an axolotl? What does that even look like?

Pg 10, " Even a scratch could kill, in time." You know, that sounds pretty important to get removed if you are constantly having people get mowed over by this creature. 

Pg 10, "dark whereas his was the characteristic grey" I finally know a little bit of what A looks like! Still don't know if he is young or old or handsome or ugly, though.

Pg 10, " the precious metal" Noted: iron is a rare metal.

Pg 11, " to contact with a h-s" A what now? I am now expecting this word to pop up more with no explanation, which is bad. Is this a person? A creature? A plant? A type of stone? Something to do with the sun?

Pg 11, "We don’t know what it will do." Hold up, he's building something that he doesn't even know the purpose of? What is going on here???

Pg 11, " the touch of refracting h-m" Whatcha know, there's that word again, dropped with no context clues for me to even figure it out.

Pg 11, " The triskelion’s favour." Okay, so this is a person, not a organization or a cult. Is this a legal person, or is A wrapped up in illegal activities?

Pg 12, "three-way conjunction" I still don't know what this is!!!

Pg 12, "pre-Stilling technology" What is this? I am so confused.

Pg 12, "Willow bark won’t work on it either." Okay, no modern medicine.

I'm a great proponent of the old advice of "Show, don't tell" but I need some telling because otherwise I have no clue what is going on. I mean, look how many of my comments are questions! I had 84 questions, if I counted correctly... There's 145 question marks on this entire page, including previous comments.

This seems to be a well planned, lively world that I just can't see because I don't have enough details. I feel like everything must be so alive in your head, but I'm trying to see the same beautiful vista through a thick, frustrating fog. My biggest struggle is that I have no clue what this story is about - there is so much but I have no clue what the stakes are, what A's motivations really are, like, anything. I mean...I don't even have enough information to make a strong claim to what genre this is. I mean...A is working on something that is maybe magical, maybe illegal, but I don't know why or why it is important. The only real stakes I see is his pet might get put down??? 


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Posted (edited)

Firstly, thank you all for reading through and critiquing! I am very, very grateful for your insightful - and honest - remarks. Secondly, I can see I read too much theory (and listened to a certain podcast...) too much without having the practical experience to understand its application. I'm glad I realised this before working on later, similarly flawed chapters.



This appears to be a philosophical discussion on whether or not robots can be good or bad? I sense dwarves and constructs in my immediate future.




My username is working against me here.



I count six capitalized words in the first two paragraphs without much context behind them. Not necessarily bad for a prologue, but still.


I sense context is the dominant theme between all critiques; will work on this.


I’m assuming ‘heliophysicist’ is just an astrophysicist?

Sort of. Helios is the Ancient Greek embodiment of the sun, so 'sun-study.' I thought I made the word up, but apparently it is an actual field of study. Who knew?


because they know what they’re talking about and the reader doesn’t, the reader doesn’t have a clue what’s going on.

Don't be overly afraid of exposition. Gotcha. The problem being, of course, what you mention later; too much exposition. I'll attempt to inject it subtly. No idea how, yet. But we'll get there.

Great review! Thank you. By the way, there's no such thing as 'Just a Historian.'




"this is what this book will be about."

I tried to do that with the discussion of the campaign, hoping that would hint what's to come. Apparently unsuccessfully!


except he just talked about killing children

The 'people' here meaning the 'folk,' the citizen body as a whole. More clarity needed, I see.


Or is this some sore of magic?

Yep. I'm beginning to see some overarching problems with my writing. Such as:



--what precious metal?


Iron is fairly rare. But a good piece would have built that up somewhere without dropping it on the audience without context. Hold on, I think you summed it up:


There's a lot of stuff here, and I can see there's some good worldbuilding behind it, but the hints are too vague and I can't find the connection between things. I need a bit more to draw me in.

Very insightful, thanks. I haven't got around to reading your pieces yet, Mandamon, but everyone's criticism reminds me of last week's scholarly character. Certainly there was much dialogue. There was undoubtedly exposition. But it all tied together.



Hey hey, welcome to Reading Excuses

15 minutes long because you're in a hurry, and I'm not that smart ;)

I notice you pasted the MC's name in your final quote! Would you mind taking it out, please? Edit: Just noticed Ha's name in same place.

Thanks for the warning about epilogues and prologues. I love prologues, personally, because it serves to contextualise everything else that happens. I think I may remove this one and just keep the epilogue, though. It seems to do much the same job.

Many of your later criticisms revolve around the D&H thing. I obviously need to clean up characterisation. H, in my mind, is like a beekeeper who cares for the hive but not the individual bee. The exception being D and others of her kind. She will become important to later stuff. If she is coming across as easily replaced by a lamp, that's v. bad.


made you feel good about yourself.

Ah, well, tried to make him feel good about himself in a way which shows her own complete misunderstanding of the situation. Or such was my intent.


She was a student from Chasm, where women didn’t decorate or hide their hair. <-- we get a heck of a lot of descriptors about the women, but not on the men. This is very Male Gaze. I'd rather have him think about her skill, than her hair, unless he also thinks about men's hair the same way

The point of L was to provide context on Chasm, which will be important later. In particular, this sentence shows the difference between the two nations. That being said, A's own hair is described in the same part, I believe. In the prologue, it's noted that D's head is shaven. I can't remember if I described Ha's hair, but I gave a rundown of his physical characteristics. Bulbous nose. Short. Wide. Glasses.

I honestly don't understand this criticism, but I welcome further explanation!


She seemed calmer now <--- so when the men were blackmailing and such, they could have emotions and it was cool, but we're down on this lady? This is my Marge Simpson face

I... also don't understand this criticism. She's a student assistant. Who feels bad about letting a giant platypus into the room (now there's a sentence I didn't think I'd ever write). Then, when there is a true emergency, she becomes much more efficient than the male protagonist. Once more - I welcome further explanation!

I think your criticism largely identifies poor characterisation on my part. Definitely something to work on - thanks for the feedback.

This is probably not the right place for this, but congratulations on the wood working book! It's a hobby I keep meaning to take up myself.

@Sarah B

Thanks for taking the time to read it! Confusion is definitely a recurring reaction. I'm gonna need to do a lot of work, but at least now I have a firm idea of what's wrong.



"they needed me at HH." Hmmm...coordinated attacks at multiple places? I'm trying to get a sense of what is going on, but I feel like I have more questions than answers so far. Let's see if any of those questions (who, what, where, when, why, how) get answered. 

This was actually a very useful comment. It helped me see and analyse the promises I was making without even realising it.


" the precious metal" Noted: iron is a rare metal.

Yay, someone noticed! Ahaha.

The rest of your comments highlight my need for context and the questions I raised but didn't answer. Thank you for your post; it is very, very helpful.

Edited by TheDwarfyOne

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2 hours ago, TheDwarfyOne said:

By the way, there's no such thing as 'Just a Historian.'

I'm aware, that particular moniker is a bit of modesty on my part. But just a bit - I prefer only being modest in small doses.


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5 hours ago, TheDwarfyOne said:

Firstly, thank you all for reading through and critiquing! I am very, very grateful for your insightful - and honest - remarks.

I'd like to say thank you for joining!

5 hours ago, TheDwarfyOne said:

Secondly, I can see I read too much theory (and listened to a certain podcast...) too much without having the practical experience to understand its application.

Man, do I feel this one. You should read the first draft of my story just so you can see just how utterly horrendous mine was before the first round of revisions. Heck, it's still crazy flawed. I'm trying to remember if you had joined by the time I posted my first chapter a month ago, and everyone was confused on if the MC was even human, and if cannibalism was an issue.

I'm a bit of a hobby artist, in case you didn't know, and I like to look at writing the same way I do art sometimes. Think of your experience this way: you've studied the masters, you know all about color theory and fancy brush strokes and all there is to know about paint, but nothing can replace sheer practice. I learned so much from the beginning of August 2019, when I first began writing my story, to now. I can only imagine what I'll know in another year, five years, ten. 


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Hi again, Dwarfy One, 

Really interested to reader your first submission.

(page 1)

- The...frontpiece(?), is interesting. I find it intriguing. There are parts that are little hard to figure, and I feel there are typos, but Im not sure what they are. Still, you have my attention. "nest in its thick coat of vegetation" - The main source of my puzzlement is the spk itself. I thought it was in the form of energy, so I'm puzzled as to how it can have a coat of vegetation. I think this first page, therefore, can be clearer and smoother, but it is interesting, and encourages me to read on. I feel a world in the names, and the titles of things.

(page 2)

- Interesting. I get a decent, clear impression of what is going on, without getting all the facts: that's good, draws me in. When the building blew up, I expected some noise to come with it (I felt that something exploded). Also, smell plays a strong part where fire is concerned. More senses in the description (just a smidge, doesn't need to be a lot) could really boost the impression of the scene, IMO.

(page 3)

- "They crossed the...lawn" - Oh, I thought they were inside, for some reason. I think because of the balustrade (which of course could be outside, but I imagined a balcony), but more so the fact that he heard her dress swishing, which I'm not sure he would outside. Then again, high out and away from the bulk of the noise, so maybe.

- "into the ruins of the king’s palace" - Confused. The earlier description said the tower stood out, and was much higher than everything else (implied), but they walk straight from the peak of the tower into the ruins of the palace. This contradicts the earlier description, IMO.

- "Tell me...creature" - I liked the earlier reference to 'them going too far' (or words to that effect), and now this. I'm definitely nervous of the creature now, starting to imagine how terrible it is.

- "Who knows..." - I like her tone, she definitely has some promise as a character, and it's almost always compelling, IMO, when you show through dialogue that one character knows another well. He is a bit more of a blank, I think, although to be fair I do get remorse and guilt from him.

(page 4)

- "Fine then!" - He actually comes over a bit childish in this part of the conversation. She exerts authority, and he is the one who responds with petulance. I think he changes his mind too soon here, which doesn't help my impression of him.

- "figured the city would surrender after" - Oh, I was figuring this was his tower and, if not the king, he was the king's advisor.

(page 5)

- "I like it" - Oh, my impression was that she disapproved. This feels like a vault face in her position, without any real justification for it. Felt clunky to me.

- "refugees throughout the city cringed downwards" - POV issue, IMO. I felt we were in a tight 3rd person on him, but this is not in his POV, clearly.

- "Trembling the ground beneath their feet" - grammar: I'm seeing this a lot lately, and maybe I should take this to the Craft Nook [Edit: I have done], but I believe that 'tremble' is a passive verb, in the sense that it is a reaction that happens to someone or something else as a result of an initial action by a third party. Example #1: the creature causes the ground to tremble by stomping on it. So, 'trembling the ground' misses out a whole step of what it is the creature does that makes the ground tremble: it's a shortcut, and it misses out that inciting action. As a result, I think it makes the description less compelling, less involving than it should be. Example #2: a person trembles because they are weak from malnutrition. The malnutrition does not 'tremble the person. I'm pasting this into Craft Nook in case anyone wants to discuss this point. It's not personal, please do not take it that way, I've read at least two other examples of this in recent subs. I guess third time's charm!!


So, after the frontpiece and the prologue, I'm interested without being swept away. It's a fairly novel thought that the people of the city built the creature. I did not get that immediately, I suppose because I was thinking that wizards or whatever had built it. I thought the creature was attacking the city, for some reason. I think a bit of clarity around that point would help. Maybe it was me not reading carefully enough.

As an opening, it's fine. I've read the like before, destruction of a city at the opening to a story, but I thought the style was solid and the narrative flowed well. Pretty good sense of character for these two, which is always the most important thing for me, so that bodes reasonably well. Although, as a prologue, I appreciate that we may not get to see them again.

(page 6)

- I get a very clear sense of what the stakes are for At, which is really good at the start. I can identify with him straight away. It helps that it sounds a bit like he's an engineer, or related profession, so I can identify with that too, as a fellow engineer. And there is a time factor, good for pacing.

- Lots of nice little grace notes in the description of things, and people. I get a nice, clear physical image of H straight away, and also of his mood from various little cues without heavy description. I'm warming quickly to the story proper. I am pleased about this! 

(page 7)

- "You know what I meant" - I was just a touch uncertain about who was asking for the info, and who was giving it, but I think that was just me not paying attention. This line, however, is not clear, I think. because it can be read as both an endorsement of At (Yes, clearly, you know what I mean), or a repudiation (No, you know what I mean, but are not answering the question.)

- Confused: how is At writing a foreword and break for Ha? I feel this is a non sequitur. 

- Also, I'm high alert here for maid-and-butler dialogue. The history At describes seems pretty general. I'm wondering why Ha doesn't know it. BUT, of course maybe he does, as his statement implies, and it's At being kind of deliberately dense.

- "I suppose I would" - LOL. Again, there is very nice subtlety of character shown in very few words. I think this is well done.

(page 8)

- "Keep your office door open" - I wouldn't mind a little bit of setting. I'm not sure if At is in a private office in some commercial building, or if he is at a university, or other place of learning, and institution of some kind, him being a scholar. Unless I've missed a reference, of course.

- "he said to the younger man" - Not sure who is spreading here. It sounds like Ha, from the words, but I think there is a POV slip, since we are in At's POV, I think. Also, not sure which is the younger man, so that doesn't assist.

(page 9)

- Minor point, but there are close instances of word repetition from time to time. Here, Ha gasps then, seconds later, Lu gasps.

- "She seemed...emergency" - I shouldn't bother highlighting these now, but again I think you've done a good job in bringing our character in very few words. It feels sort of akin to Dan Wells approach to detail and world-buildling, to explain one thing in great detail in order to convince the reader of the depth of background that is there. I feel this is working similarly in terms of character.

(page 10)

- "towards the stone" - I forget what the stone is. Did I know this?

- Whats a 'hag--'?

- "We don’t know what it will do" - What is 'it' in this context? Getting confused around here.

- "the tris------" - What is this? A person; a race of people; a position within an organisation?

(page 11)

- "He investigated any edge" - I'm all at sea. Any edge of what? Confused.

- "knew better than to betray the tris------" - I don't really feel the stakes here, because I don't know what the tr------ is, so I'm not sure I care whether he betrays it or not.

- "pre-Still---" - Another thing that I don't understand, because I don't know what it is. One on top of another starts to get frustrating.

(page 12)

- Close repetition of 'the man'.

- I feel that there is a quite a bit of additional information at the end of the chapter: desert folk; orthodox; tribesmen; still---; and curses (which I took as literal here, as opposed to just cussing.

- "even desert tribesmen respected him for that" - Since they tore him to pieces, apparently, this should be past tense, I think.

(page 13)

- Still don't know what the tris------ is.

- I like the ending. A list Its woes and then an understated line like that, in a 'things can only get worse' kind of thing.


- Very good. I enjoyed this. A few issues of a minor nature, but I'm onboard, and interested to see how things develop. Good job, especially on character, I though. Maybe some background matters that could do with just a little more fleshing out. Smooth read too. I had few complaints about language and grammar :) 


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1) I know that a lot of books have an in world blurb in the front/before each chapter, but what's the point of this one? Any given reason?

2) "gone too far" - "gone too far". It sounds wrong in such close proximity

2) ditto for "upset"

3) What did H just do? I think this is magic, but I can't tell

3) The conversation about 'the beast' feels stilted. Also, it doesn't have a name?

5) I feel like I should feel something now, especially after D's decision, but I don't feel any tension about the possible impending fight, let alone it's release. 

5) "Giant which they had crafted" - I like this!

7) this technobabble lost me. I get the feeling that this stuff is important, but it means nothing to me so my head is swimming in what's going on. (if a suggestion is warranted, then maybe have a scene before with all of the technobabble in play, so when they're talking, I have a frame of reference of what everything is?)

9) that creatures name is impossible to pronounce

Overall: Most of the story just needs a wordsmithing, but ch. 1, while I followed the important bits, completely lost me with its technobabble. Also, while I understand A's plight, I don't feel for him as a character. Still, this novels possibilities look incredibly awesome and I think I'm going to like it.








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Posted (edited)


Some more comments, after reading the other comments. Excellent, as always. I feel like I dropped the ball here. There was a nagging sensation of something digging at me, but I will admit that the smooth style carried me along, possibly past things that I should have commented on. So, word of warning, I am now digging in specifically looking for markers and--when one does that--I think there are several.


I almost commented on the description of H, but, in not commenting, I sensed the Kais would pick this one up. Reading the piece again, I would say it's not just about the fact that everyone's hair is described--or at least everyone gets some physical description, which is true--but as kais says, H is only described in terms of physical aspects that are considered 'measures' of beauty or attractiveness. Viz: her seductive smile; running fingers through long, black hair; her hand on his bare arm (implies physical attraction, or why mention that his arm is bare?); the fact that her eyes 'distracted' him (again, physical attraction implied, strongly); and, she links her arm with his (again tending to imply physical attraction on her part, especially with the body language that has gone before).

What we are not told, but should be IMO, is what her role is, why is she important?

Another factor is that she seems subservient to him in numerous ways, either in her own eyes, or in his opinion: emotionally (she's afraid she has upset him); intellectually (he tells her she doesn't understand, and later, she drops her objections to his course of action very quickly); authoritatively (she is very eager to help him); protectively (he tells her he killed their children, and she tries to rationalise it for him, excusing his 'terrible' actions); compliantly (she is angry with him for not destroying the creature, but, when he decides he won't do it, she immediately drops her objection to fall in with his completely contrary position).

It's not that you can't write a character this way, but it is going to hit various triggers that are likely to be distasteful to a significant proportion of your readership. Also, I feel there is a difference between calling out her being his subordinate, and recognising in the narrative that she is doing these things, an doing it silently, or even unconsciously.


22 hours ago, TheDwarfyOne said:

She seemed calmer now <--- so when the men were blackmailing and such, they could have emotions and it was cool, but we're down on this lady? This is my Marge Simpson face

I... also don't understand this criticism. She's a student assistant. Who feels bad about letting a giant platypus into the room (now there's a sentence I didn't think I'd ever write). Then, when there is a true emergency, she becomes much more efficient than the male protagonist. Once more - I welcome further explanation!

Similarly, reading the piece again, there are some similar triggers.

A - When she appears at first, she is very subservient to him, repeatedly apologising. Okay, she is his assistant, but it's worth asking if there was an automatic presumption that she would be female. There's no reason that this character could not be male. Not in this section at least.

B - She's portrayed as being disorganised or a bit thoughtless for not tying the creature up. And yet, when the chapter goes on, she is the one who takes charge. Why then would she be so forgetful in the first instance, when she seems very capable in everything else that she does?

C - 'Her hair is long and dark.' - Yes, his hair is described too, BUT, its very well known that such standards are not equal for men and women in the workplace. Men's hair will tend to be judged on a scale of how silly it looks, whether jokes can be made about baldness, thinning, etc. whereas a woman's hair will be (tend to be) judged on a scale of attractiveness. In life, in many environments, there is no equality in this, and most other aspects of appearance.

D - 'She seemed calmer now' - Here, in the middle of a minor(?) crisis, At is judging her. Why does he not think about his own calmness, or lack of it? He equally might have thought, she was quick to take control of the situation. That would imply capability, resourcefulness, decisiveness, but instead the first thing he seems to think about is where she lies of a scale of emotional upset.

E - Lu arrived at his office the next day, the tris------ favour.' This can be read as saying that Lu was bestowed upon him like a gift, like a possession, by this 'tris' (we don't know what that is). That is not a good look. 

F - 'inwardly cursing Lu's tongue' - At has been really pretty mild-mannered through the whole piece, but his feelings here are very strong, and he's cursing Lu's interjection. That's a very strong reaction. And yet, when he think about his own contribution, which is that he has been lax about getting the platypus's venom pulled, there is not self-criticism. Also, his phrasing: cursing her words would be one thing, but he curses a physical part of her, which seems more personal. It's one thing getting a 'tongue lashing', which is a phrase associated with words and tone, but here, as I read it again with these thoughts in mind, it feels like he is cursing her for being careless and unthinking, and tends to sound like she is always doing this.

G - "The man would probably curse her" - Why should Ha curse her, and not At? Also, At seems to send Lu to escort Ha knowing that Ha will curse her, but not caring.


I think this is unconscious, but there is a general effect in relation to how both of the female characters are treated, as @kais has raised, that is worth examining. This is a particular sensitivity area for this group, as are matters of gender, sexuality and race. I made a comment about there being no particular reason for Lu to be female. What I was not implying was that Lu or He should be male characters to avoid difficulty, but a more general point about why a character is assigned a particular gender. Is there a default happening and why? It's a question worth asking oneself.

Just as general background, when I came to this group seven years ago, I had entrenched defaults in me in terms of gender roles, male gaze and character sexuality, which--in the first few years of being here--were roundly challenged, and I have moved on considerably (I hope), and developed a lot (*not there yet, never there yet--true enlightenment seems always just out of reach). What I have learned, for what it is worth, is to try (it's not automatic, not for me anyway) to challenge my defaults at the very first stage of writing. Why is the MC male, or female, or white, or straight? And this applies to all characters. Is it because I imagine a romantic relationship between certain characters in the story, or the possibility of it? If I do, why is it M/F, why not M/M, or F/F, or maybe there is a non-binary character in a prominent role? (That is an area I have not yet stepped into, but I want to try, and could not have better sensitivity readers (I hope!! :) ), if I do at some point.)

If we don't challenge our defaults, as writers, our work is going to be much more bland because of it, and likely to exclude a significant proportion of readership, especially in genre fiction, and especially now, when the SFF community is getting better at embracing its own diversity (not there yet...etc., see above*).

One of the ways to underline this point, I think, is to look at the trends in SFF and review the nominated works at the major awards: the Hugos, the Nebulas, BSFA, BFS, World Fantasy, and look at the breakdown of M/F authors, but also M/F characters, LGBTQI+ representation, etc. Seven years ago, I would have said I have almost no experience in my life of diversity issues, but I have learned that (IMO), as writers, we owe it to our craft, our work and our readers to expose ourselves to the diversity in SFF, and to learn about things which we know nothing about, to expand our awareness to the point that we can represent society and explore what society is, in all its diverse aspects.

You have been watching 'Robinski rants about..., Season 3, Episode 9'.

Sorry to go on at such length but, changed as I am over these past years, I tend to be a bit overeager to discuss these matters. I hope this is helpful in some way. Others here are far better placed to analyse these subjects than I am, and I will forever be indebted to those who have helped me stumble around on the wrong side of a wall of my own construction. I hope they will forgive me for 'rambling on' about this.

p.s.  I just wanted to stress that my overall reaction was positive, and I think the story has great potential. If you think there is a point here on this matter, I think it can quite easily be addressed without changing the path of the story.

p.p.s.  A point that I totally sidelined, but again others have raised, is clarity. This is my biggest current problem, not being clear, hinting at things instead of just coming out and giving the reader the information. I like mystery, but if the reader doesn't understand then there is not point. I'm trying to be much better at just giving the reader the information, revealing it. If nothing else, I think at the start of the story it is more likely to engage the reader better.

Edited by Robinski

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Posted (edited)

My $0.02:

My biggest concern is that in 13 pages we only really get one actual scene. It's from when H opens the door until he is safe again. That part reads and flows really well, honestly. As of right now, the story I'm reading is about keeping W safe. I actually think this is a great story. Keeping an animals safe has mass appeal and isn't something you see very often in modern SF--especially not right off the bat.

However, everything before this is vague to the point where if this was a book I bought off the shelf I wouldn't bother remembering any of the details. Giving you the benefit of the doubt (something I wouldn't do as solely a reader) I'm going to assume much of it will make more sense upon a re-read, and if this is the case, I admire the ambition. However, even if this is the case, that means the the information we receive isn't actually pertinent to me in the here and now and it is therefore skim-able. Which is a bummer because it seems like you spent time on the world but all the interesting stuff happened off screen.

Edited by hawkedup

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I am rooting W. 

If W does not survive, I will not be happy. The animals tend to be my favorite characters, and W is definitely the one I like the most right now. 

Regarding the rest of the story, there were some parts where the writing and description pulled me in, but there were also a lot places where I felt lost or like I was missing some important piece. In the prologue I felt like the tone of the conversation and interaction between the two characters felt really disconnected from the opening paragraphs with the mc watching the city burn.  

I was easily able to picture places and people, but I agree with @kais and @Robinski that there were issues about how the women were described. However, I don't really have anything to add that they haven't already said.

Here are some notes I made as I read:

At the end of The Song of the Spark, I was interested. It had me thinking and curious. I liked the prose. However, I thought that was the prologue, so I was a little confused when I got to the actual prologue

"They had gone to far." Up to here, I was enjoying the prologue. . There was nice description and plenty of emotion. I wanted to know what happened and what was going to happen next. 

But then H showed up, and I felt lost. The emotion faded. Something about the tone of the conversation, the way she was described, and the way they interacted just didn't fit with the scene that had just been described. 

"...into his grey eyes." Would he be thinking about the color of his own eyes? 

By the end of the prologue, I just felt like I was missing something.  

In chapter 1, I was almost engaged, but again, I kept getting the feeling I was just missing some little detail that would help me put all the pieces together. 




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