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Turin Turambar

Reading Excuses - 8/10/20 - Turin Turambar - River of Souls - Chapter 1 (5182)

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Hello all,
 
This is a second run of the first chapter of the story I'm writing (the working title has been changed.) 
 
Most of you have already seen this; I'm resubmitting this because I think I solved most of the major issues with the first draft and I want a solid foundation for this story to work on. I'd understand if you don't critique it but please do anyway if you have the time.
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Overall

I think what is still missing is the inciting incident. Why is the story starting here, in this place? Is it the letter? If so, we should know about it in the first few pages. Is it the meal and the accounting? If so, more time should be spent with the tax charts. Right now it takes over half the length just to get a feel for motivations, and that's too long. Within the first three pages generally we need to know what the MC wants (even if that changes over time) and how they intend to get it (even if it fails). Otherwise the reader is left scrambling and may not continue reading.

I think this draft is much improved! Just some things from the end need to be brought to the beginning, and then the arc needs to be closed at the end.

 

As I go

- 'my' apartment? First person slip?

- pg 2: if that baby powder has been around for 16 years or so she must not summon this demon very often??

- pg 4: how can the demon leave the pentagram? I thought the knots were to keep things in?

- pg 6: running into the issue again of what the MC's motivations are and where this is going. By page 3, ideally, I'd like to know the direction of the story, at least somewhat. Here on pg 6 I'm once again floundering for where is this going and why does the MC care?

- pg 6: another first person artifact-"N settled myself..."

- pg 7: "Manned by a man" could use some rewording. Redundancy

- pg 8: The letter. If we had the letter on page one I think it would fix a lot of the issues. Like she has finished cleaning and takes one final read of the demon letter, delivered to her house through the normal courier channels, and thinks, ugh, okay, have to call in the client again and deal with his new issue.

- pg 10: there's so much description of food and looks through here it gives it, once again, the feeling of the demon trying to seduce the MC

- pg 11: The 'This is why she agreed' section comes far too late. We need this information in the first page or two, to give the story direction and focus

- pg 14: the worldbuilding here feels out of place. I thought they were doing taxes? Also this could easily have come in the first few pages, too, while MC was waiting for her demon in particular

- pg 15: I don't think succubus should be capitalized. It isn't a proper noun

- pg 16: so he needed her to look at his soul accounts, but she found an error in under a minute? Did he send them in advance? Why couldn't he find the issue?

- pg 18: that she needs him is a good hook, but I still feel it comes too late.

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Similar reactions to @kais on this one. The new version is definitely better, but it's still missing stakes, and N's character reactions change during the encounter. She starts off hugging a demon, but then we find out she's actually using him as he's using her. I think making her reactions more consistent will help, and to introduce the why of her needing him a lot earlier so we understand why she's taking on such a risky job.

Notes while reading:

pg 1: "the boring classic kind that would be taken against a greenscreen with a photoshopped background inserted afterwards."
--Would "classic" pictures be taken against a greenscreen?

pg 1: "After glancing away"
--nitpicky note. This sounds like she's looking for something else, when she's actually keeping the baby powder from her eyes. Maybe "turning her head away," or something like that?

pg 2: "One side was slightly misaligned, but it would do."
--this seems terribly flippant for a summoning circle, as does clapping the powder from her hands. Usually circles need to be exactly precise.

pg 2: "wait for something - someone - to show up"
--so did she actually DO any summoning? She just drew the circle and waited for something to show up. Usually there's a ritual involved.

pg 2: "the devil"
--demon or devil? Are there differences between the two? Asking for the sake of worldbuilding. Usually the devil is reserved for one individual, while there are a lot of demons.

pg 3: "that summoning rituals"
--Still don't understand this. She should be reciting this thing BEFORE the demon shows up, not after.  Otherwise she's not summoning.

pg 3: "His teeth extended from it’s mouth"
--pronoun slip

pg 4: "gave him a fierce hug" 
--She's obviously made preparations because she doesn't trust this demon, and they're going out to a business lunch, so choosing to hug him, rather than just greet him or maaaaybe shake his hand seems strange. Especially with all the spines, this demon just doesn't seem...cuddly.

pg 4: "slip up and mention her friend's name"
--this. I wouldn't want to hug someone that I'm afraid of mentioning my friend's name to. Nor would I really think it was good to see them.

pg 5: "held the three ornate pieces of china she had inherited from my grandfather."
--this seems like an obvious slip of personal information.

pg 7: "in the entire Maryland"
--Weird phrasing. Maybe "in all of Maryland?"

pg 8: “Maybe I just wanted a lunch date. That’s not enough reason for you?”
--With someone actively trying to steal her personal information? Not likely.

pg 9: "Expensive items seemed that much more desirable"
--the description of the car makes more sens now. Maybe you could put this explanation back there?

pg 9: "His portion is somewhere a lot and piggish"
--missing words

pg 11: "Several hours of work should be plenty of time to extract the
information that she wanted from him."
--Aha. This is the first indication of a reason for N to have this relationship with a demon. She already indicated she's not rich, so I've been wondering what her angle is for taking such a risky job. This gives some indication, but would also be good to bring out earlier.

pg 13: "G is like a massive mountain..."
--so is he saying G is actually Hell? All of it? Or just a specific part? Nonetheless, I'm enjoying the bit of worldbuilding in here. It's a little on the infodumpy side, but pretty good.

pg 14: "She resisted the urge to change her shirt,"
--this still reads weird. Maybe if it was resisting the urge to take her shirt off, instead.

pg 15: "the World Wars and Vietnam"
--another weird phrase. First, why would they being fleeing from a war? They're demons. Second, why mention these three and not the other wars? Maybe just say "the wars of the twentieth century?"

pg 15: "She may want to know everything that she could about demons"
--first, "may want" -> "may have wanted"
--second, this tells us that she does want to know everything, but not why, which is the more interesting thing to me.

pg 17: "She made sure not to hide the acid that she knew coated her words."
--again, this is a big switch from hugging the demon when he shows up.

pg 18: "But she wouldn’t, not couldn’t cut off ties with him. She needed him."
--Again, good, but I want to see even more of why. Consorting with demons is a very risky proposition just to find out more about them. Even a hint of stakes here will help drive it home.

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Posted (edited)

22 hours ago, kais said:

Is it the meal and the accounting? If so, more time should be spent with the tax charts.

Bingo. Well, it's mainly for the character and motivation, but taxes too. 

22 hours ago, kais said:

Within the first three pages generally we need to know what the MC wants

Actually, I was considering starting at the restaurant and using the summoning bit at a later point. Do you think that it would make the story stronger (start in the middle, and I think it would let me put motivation in earlier.)

22 hours ago, kais said:

and then the arc needs to be closed at the end

? I understand what you're saying but not how to implement it.

22 hours ago, kais said:

- pg 2: if that baby powder has been around for 16 years or so she must not summon this demon very often??

Never. It was a random convenient substance on hand to use.

22 hours ago, kais said:

- pg 4: how can the demon leave the pentagram? I thought the knots were to keep things in?

Minor plot hole. What's the term for that? In-world slip up?

22 hours ago, kais said:

- pg 10: there's so much description of food and looks through here it gives it, once again, the feeling of the demon trying to seduce the MC

Kind of. He's seducing her for her soul instead of her money, though.

22 hours ago, kais said:

- pg 14: the worldbuilding here feels out of place. I thought they were doing taxes? Also this could easily have come in the first few pages, too, while MC was waiting for her demon in particular

She didn't know this information - she's trying to write a book about demons. I apparently didn't convey that well enough as her motivation. So she's trying to milk him for information while he wants his dues and without letting him know. That's why it's there. I wanted to make it subtler, but I'm really bad at subtle in novels.

 

Edited by Turin Turambar
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7 hours ago, Mandamon said:

pg 1: "the boring classic kind that would be taken against a greenscreen with a photoshopped background inserted afterwards."
--Would "classic" pictures be taken against a greenscreen?

From what I remember of individual school photos, yes.

7 hours ago, Mandamon said:

pg 2: "One side was slightly misaligned, but it would do."
--this seems terribly flippant for a summoning circle, as does clapping the powder from her hands. Usually circles need to be exactly precise.

pg 2: "wait for something - someone - to show up"
--so did she actually DO any summoning? She just drew the circle and waited for something to show up. Usually there's a ritual involved.

No ritual. It was supposed to be flippant. It's probably shouldn't be.

7 hours ago, Mandamon said:

pg 2: "the devil"
--demon or devil? Are there differences between the two? Asking for the sake of worldbuilding. Usually the devil is reserved for one individual, while there are a lot of demons.

N doesn't know the difference and uses both interchangeably. As far as world building is concerned, Demon is a race (human) while Devil refers to an individual (person). 

7 hours ago, Mandamon said:

pg 5: "held the three ornate pieces of china she had inherited from my grandfather."
--this seems like an obvious slip of personal information.

I put that in quotes? That was her running commentary.

7 hours ago, Mandamon said:

pg 13: "G is like a massive mountain..."
--so is he saying G is actually Hell? All of it? Or just a specific part? Nonetheless, I'm enjoying the bit of worldbuilding in here. It's a little on the infodumpy side, but pretty good.

I haven't yet entirely figured out interplanar worlds, but I'm too prude to actually "curse" so I replaced the word. Laugh at me if you wish. The in-world reason is that N tries to use the right terms and that's what the demons call it. The demonic language is loosely based off of hebrew, for which the right word is 'Gehenim'.

7 hours ago, Mandamon said:

pg 14: "She resisted the urge to change her shirt,"
--this still reads weird. Maybe if it was resisting the urge to take her shirt off, instead.

And strip in public?

7 hours ago, Mandamon said:

pg 15: "the World Wars and Vietnam"
--another weird phrase. First, why would they being fleeing from a war? They're demons. Second, why mention these three and not the other wars? Maybe just say "the wars of the twentieth century?"

Demons can die too. Also, those were the ones I thought of. Saying the twentieth century makes more sense.

 

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21 minutes ago, Turin Turambar said:
7 hours ago, Mandamon said:

pg 1: "the boring classic kind that would be taken against a greenscreen with a photoshopped background inserted afterwards."
--Would "classic" pictures be taken against a greenscreen?

From what I remember of individual school photos, yes.

I think this depends a lot on the age of the school photo! :P

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1 hour ago, Turin Turambar said:

Actually, I was considering starting at the restaurant and using the summoning bit at a later point. Do you think that it would make the story stronger (start in the middle, and I think it would let me put motivation in earlier.)

I don't mind the start at all. I think it's strong enough, we just need more information. For instance, since she apparently is researching for a book, why not have her shoving manuscript pages in a drawer, and one falls out and has the book title on it (that then we, the reader, get to see)? Have her rub her wrists from typing too much. Have her hide library books on demonology. Have her check her email and see that her interlibrary loan for '101 species of demon and where to find them' is in at the local public library.

Then establish that this is her first summoning circle, since it really feels like she's done this before. Maybe have that be the one book she leaves out, have her note that she has to return it tomorrow so had better try things right now. Have her get flustered over not having anything to make it with, find the baby powder, then go from there.

There's just a few set up things that are needed to push the start. I don't think starting at the restaurant will help, because you'll still need those same elements. And they'll be a lot easier to deliver in her apartment, where you have already set up some of the story arc. Then to close the arc on chapter one you could have her feel over her head with soul seduction or whatever, have the demon almost trick her, and sort of leave with a line like, Interviewing a demon was a lot more work than she'd thought it would be. She hoped that her most recent loan request - 'Putting Demons Back in the Underworld,' came before this one sucked away half the souls of New York. Etc.

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3 minutes ago, kais said:

I don't mind the start at all. I think it's strong enough, we just need more information. For instance, since she apparently is researching for a book, why not have her shoving manuscript pages in a drawer, and one falls out and has the book title on it (that then we, the reader, get to see)? Have her rub her wrists from typing too much. Have her hide library books on demonology. Have her check her email and see that her interlibrary loan for '101 species of demon and where to find them' is in at the local public library.

Then establish that this is her first summoning circle, since it really feels like she's done this before. Maybe have that be the one book she leaves out, have her note that she has to return it tomorrow so had better try things right now. Have her get flustered over not having anything to make it with, find the baby powder, then go from there.

There's just a few set up things that are needed to push the start. I don't think starting at the restaurant will help, because you'll still need those same elements. And they'll be a lot easier to deliver in her apartment, where you have already set up some of the story arc. Then to close the arc on chapter one you could have her feel over her head with soul seduction or whatever, have the demon almost trick her, and sort of leave with a line like, Interviewing a demon was a lot more work than she'd thought it would be. She hoped that her most recent loan request - 'Putting Demons Back in the Underworld,' came before this one sucked away half the souls of New York. Etc.

That's probably the right way to fix it (though the library needs some tinkering). Thanks!

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So I did read the first version, but for some reason unknown to even myself,  never actually posted my comments on the forum. I do like this one better, though I feel like less actually happened to move the story along, in some ways. Mostly because you took out the ladies beating up N for hanging out with a Demon. I remember thinking maybe that was the inciting incident. The consequences of the attack were going to propel us past the point of no return. But now, most of this just seems like a routine meeting. A fascinating one, but still routine.

To me, it seemed the improvements were that it was more focused, there was a little more tension, and N seemed to have a little more of a purpose. I liked how she was fishing for information, but afraid she would be too obvious. I liked the hint that she'd lost someone important to her. This actually made me think she was fishing for information because she was going to go and try to bring a dead person back. But then when R offered to take her to G, and she panicked about it, I thought maybe that wasn't the case.

I think part of the problem is that I don't know why she needs this info. I guess I don't need to 100% know if you are making it a twist, but I want to be able to guess. Though, honestly, I'd rather just know what her motives really are. 

One issue I had with both this and the first version is that the first scene gave me the impression this was her first time summoning a demon, and it would be her first time interacting with one. Then, when the demon actually gets there, it turns out it's someone she knew well. This made me feel betrayed by the narrative and a little annoyed. 

I did enjoy the voice and the tension between the two characters. I'm almost expecting a romance to occur between them. 

There were a lot slips between first and third person. I noted some of them below. 

As I read (I'm reading on my kindle, so no page numbers)

The first line starts in third person but has a "my" in it.

"The low whine of electricity died down." Wondering if you could use this instead of saying the power went out. It and the other description would show it. 

"...neighbors could hear the racket..." Nice line!

"His teeth...it's mouth..." He or it?

"...empty compliments..." This line made me laugh! I like the voice!

"She cursed myself"  first / third slip

"N... settled myself" another slip

"...greed demon..." I like the world building here. It felt naturally incorporated. 

"...people around me..." slipped back to first

"...me. For a moment he seemed..." another slip to first

"She resisted the urge to change her shirt." At first, this line confused me. Then I kept reading and saw the humor. Sometimes I'm too literal. 

Near the end, when R says he has to work, he says the same thing too different ways. 

I'm looking forward to the next chapter. I'll post Ch. 2 either later tonight or at some point tomorrow. 

 

 

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1 hour ago, shatteredsmooth said:

Mostly because you took out the ladies beating up N for hanging out with a Demon.

That's going in later. It's important, but I thought it was promising too much too fast, especially since I don't think most of the scenes are going to be as full.

1 hour ago, shatteredsmooth said:

But now, most of this just seems like a routine meeting. A fascinating one, but still routine.

That was the idea.

1 hour ago, shatteredsmooth said:

I liked the hint that she'd lost someone important to her.

Is there? I don't remember that at all...

1 hour ago, shatteredsmooth said:

Though, honestly, I'd rather just know what her motives really are. 

She's an anthropologist who discovered demons are real and is writing a book on them. I thought that I had conveyed that, which is why I'm explaining it now.

1 hour ago, shatteredsmooth said:

This made me feel betrayed by the narrative and a little annoyed. 

Whoops. That was NOT the emotion I was going for. The  beginning was supposed to be a series of miniature twists. 

1 hour ago, shatteredsmooth said:

There were a lot slips between first and third person. I noted some of them below. 

I'm so incredibly used to first POV present tense that it feels unnatural to write anything else, so yes. Lots of slips.

 

Just a warning about the second chapter: It's incredibly different now. Of course I'll appreciate any critiques, but read it at your own risk.

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Posted (edited)

Notes as I go:

P. 1. “was over a decade old, from T. She would have been sixteen now.” – so T would have been six, meaning it wasn’t from T, but for T perhaps?

P. 3. “taking note of my movements.” – In the wrong person! It’s N’s movements.

P. 4. Interesting. The demon is her… date? Friend? I foresee a story-line in which a lonely girl has summoned a demon to be her companion, exploring themes of loneliness, never knowing if the demon is plotting against her. But I’m probably getting ahead of myself, ahahah.

“Comptable.” ??

P. 6. “vehicle whose physique would only be enhanced in the shadows rather than diminished” - Aha. Why do I feel this is indicative? Nice description too.

P.8. “An older man caught N’s eye, glanced at Raphael, then winked conspiratorially.” – Why? Because he thinks R is a sugar daddy? Because he thinks she’s a prostitute? Why would he wink conspiratorially at that?

P. 9. “to rapidly paint the table.” – unneeded adverb.

“His portion is somewhere a lot and piggish - N had ordered him a double helping for him.” Wrong tense. And you use him twice.

P. 10. “a devil likes mediterranean salad.” – tense.

P. 11. “Stared. His eyes slitted.” – “He stared. His eyes were slitted.”

P. 13. I can’t help but feel that N is being painfully obvious in wishing to dig for information. R is being very naïve to go along with it. Not sure if that’s the intended goal.

P. 14. “I began to” – person.

P. 15. Maybe think of italicising the French.

“I’d bet that at least five of those have the most unimpeachable alibis as to why they barely bought any souls.” He nodded, rubbing his hairless chin. “The most cunning would not have been caught up in the travails of war. I’ll talk to her. Horns and tails but I will.”” – You lost me here. I don’t follow the logic/understand what this means. Is it because his devils are crafty, ergo those claiming the war got in their way are liars and holding back souls? Maybe. But I don’t know.

Also, I’m still waiting for Ja to become relevant.

P. 17. “[INSERT MENTAL CURSING BECAUSE IT FITS]” – Em, yes. :)

 

 

Overall: I feel like more visceral and active language is needed, stronger verbs for N than “moved,” “watched,” “wondered.” Perhaps the character isn’t hugely phased by the supernatural. But richer verbs bring the scene to life regardless.

You frequently confuse tense and sometimes confuse person. There are also other grammar issues which should be easily corrected, and sometimes oddly phrased sentences.N herself is confusing. The story begins as if she's summoned a demon to be her date, then segues into taxes, then segues into information-mining, none of which with any contextualising information to say why.

 

Edit: I read the other comments.

Quote

She's an anthropologist who discovered demons are real and is writing a book on them. I thought that I had conveyed that, which is why I'm explaining it now.

 

I got... next to none of that.

Edited by TheDwarfyOne
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1 hour ago, TheDwarfyOne said:

P. 13. I can’t help but feel that N is being painfully obvious in wishing to dig for information. R is being very naïve to go along with it. Not sure if that’s the intended goal.

That's just me not being subtle enough. 

1 hour ago, TheDwarfyOne said:

“Comptable.” ??

Google translate

1 hour ago, TheDwarfyOne said:

– You lost me here. I don’t follow the logic/understand what this means. Is it because his devils are crafty, ergo those claiming the war got in their way are liars and holding back souls? Maybe. But I don’t know.

Nope. That's right.

1 hour ago, TheDwarfyOne said:

P.8. “An older man caught N’s eye, glanced at Raphael, then winked conspiratorially.” – Why? Because he thinks R is a sugar daddy? Because he thinks she’s a prostitute? Why would he wink conspiratorially at that?

It's important. Not for that, but it's relevant.

1 hour ago, TheDwarfyOne said:

P. 17. “[INSERT MENTAL CURSING BECAUSE IT FITS]” – Em, yes. :)

I'm prude enough to dislike cursing, even in writing. So just imagine it for the time being.

1 hour ago, TheDwarfyOne said:

Also, I’m still waiting for Ja to become relevant.

Yes, in the long term...

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10 hours ago, Turin Turambar said:

Is there? I don't remember that at all...

11 hours ago, shatteredsmooth said:

The person she thought of with the powder? Maybe I misinterpreted that. 

10 hours ago, Turin Turambar said:

She's an anthropologist who discovered demons are real and is writing a book on them. I thought that I had conveyed that, which is why I'm explaining it now.

11 hours ago, shatteredsmooth said:

I missed this completely, but if others didn't, maybe I had just read too quickly.  

10 hours ago, Turin Turambar said:

Just a warning about the second chapter: It's incredibly different now. Of course I'll appreciate any critiques, but read it at your own risk.

Did you want to email me the updated version of 2? Or are you planning to send it to the group soon?

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1 hour ago, shatteredsmooth said:

The person she thought of with the powder? Maybe I misinterpreted that. 

I missed this completely, but if others didn't, maybe I had just read too quickly.  

Did you want to email me the updated version of 2? Or are you planning to send it to the group soon?

I can send to the current version if you want, but I want to write enough chapters to get through the beginning quarter/third then I'll start submitting them one at a time. And yes, apparently a bunch of people missed the book bit. HOPEFULLY when I get around to mass editing the whole thing it will be clearer. For now, just pretend that I wrote it there.

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1 hour ago, Turin Turambar said:

I can send to the current version if you want, but I want to write enough chapters to get through the beginning quarter/third then I'll start submitting them one at a time. And yes, apparently a bunch of people missed the book bit. HOPEFULLY when I get around to mass editing the whole thing it will be clearer. For now, just pretend that I wrote it there.

I'll pretend it's there. 

If you think it will be more helpful to get feedback on the new Ch. 2, send it to me. That way I'm not suggesting things you've already changed. I have a little more free time this week than I've had in a while. 

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Posted (edited)

I'll share it with you.

EDIT: shared it. Confirm that you got it?

Edited by Turin Turambar
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So sorry I am late on this. I feel like I'm falling behind on everything lately. I have not forgotten about your other work that I still need to finish.

Thoughts as I go:

Pg 1, "besides the old shedding couch and the peeling wallpaper" I was thinking to myself that being a demonic accountant apparently doesn't pay well until I looked up the rent prices in NYC. Apparently, the bottom 25% of all rent prices for a studio in NYC is, on average, $2,300. You can get a studio in my college town for $900. My 2 bedroom 1.5 bath costs $1,000. I can't imagine trying to survive in the Big Apple. 

Pg 2, "after several minutes she began to grow restless" It's like being put on hold by a demon. 

Pg 5, "why she hadn’t replaced the stained fridge and faded wallpaper" If I did that in my apartment, it would count as an "alteration" and I'd lose my deposit. She might not be allowed to.

Pg 7, "She barely suppressed a shudder." I wonder how long N has been doing this, considering she still has reactions to the more...disturbing parts of demons. She isn't desensitized. 

Pg 13, "Several hours of work should be plenty of time to extract the information that she wanted from him." I don't remember this line in the original, but it immediately makes me wonder what she wants. 

Pg 18, "Is that all?" Definitely not the several hours of work time suggested on page 13.

19 hours ago, Turin Turambar said:

She's an anthropologist who discovered demons are real and is writing a book on them. I thought that I had conveyed that, which is why I'm explaining it now.

Going to have to agree with the others who got stumped on this. I took your hints for this and assumed she was actually casing the joint. Thought that she planned to enter Hell to save a family member or someone from eternal damnation.

Overall:

I think this is a strong improvement and a good step in the right direction. I feel like there's not much I can add from everyone else's comments except keep on going! Revising is a pain in the patootie, but it'll be worth it in the long run. I'd keep on writing if I were you, and return to this on a later date. You don't want to be stuck rewriting the same first five chapters forever. 

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2 hours ago, Snakenaps said:

I'd keep on writing if I were you, and return to this on a later date.

That's what I'm doing. 

2 hours ago, Snakenaps said:

Going to have to agree with the others who got stumped on this. I took your hints for this and assumed she was actually casing the joint. Thought that she planned to enter Hell to save a family member or someone from eternal damnation.

No comment one way or the other.

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4 minutes ago, Turin Turambar said:

No comment one way or the other.

All Right Then, Keep Your Secrets - Meming Wiki

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38 minutes ago, Snakenaps said:

All Right Then, Keep Your Secrets - Meming Wiki

I totally want all of my comments to be LotR memes from now on.

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1 hour ago, Turin Turambar said:

I totally want all of my comments to be LotR memes from now on.

Is that a dare? 

 

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Just now, Snakenaps said:

Is that a dare? 

 

No. But I'm going to try to throw them in when I can.

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3 hours ago, Turin Turambar said:

No. But I'm going to try to throw them in when I can.

I approve! 

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Line by line:

There are a few places where the narrative references “I/my/me” instead of sticking with third person: see top of pg1, bottom of pg3, twice on p14

P1 “small white mushroom cloud” I like the description here, it’s nicely ominous.

p2: Does the apartment have smoke alarms? If it does I would assume they would be going off given the description on p2.

P2 “Two pairs of baleful blue eyes” typo or does this demon actually have four eyes? I mean, I’m on board with the latter.

For the most part the demon is referred to with male pronouns, but occasionally “it” is used. May be worth going over for consistency. Similarly the terms demon and devil are used more or less interchangeably, which might be just fine but is going to give us as readers a different sense of your worldbuilding.

“…to obey the spirit and not the letter.” Ah, a nice little reversal of what we usually see in these sorts of stories! I could see this still going disastrously wrong. I like this a lot.

Top of p5: if N has taken pains to remove anything from the room that might give away information about her personality, why did she leave the china in the living room where it could potentially get wrecked, if it’s important to her?

“An older man caught N’s eye…” was a bit thrown by this as the description here makes it sound like he’s in pretty close proximity, but they sought the booth out for privacy.

Where is N spending these ancient coins?

P10 “...as R readjusted his teeth…” oh, that’s a fantastic detail.

“…for a moment he seemed to know what she was doing…” I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. N is not being particularly subtle here.

P13 I get that N is fishing for information, that’s fine, but R is surprisingly forthcoming considering the information he’s giving away is apparently rather important.

P14 “resisted the urge to change her shirt” I like the sentiment, it’s a nice detail about how N feels about this, but the way it’s worded definitely struck me as odd, because yes, it would involve taking off her shirt in the middle of a restaurant and presumably having another one to change into.

If N and R are meeting again in a month, does that mean the circle of baby powder has to stay in her living room until then?

Overall:

There are a lot of things I like about the way this demon-summoning thing plays with our expectations somewhat: the fact that that the actual act of summoning and waiting for something to show up is actually kind of boring, the meta-humour about how ridiculous the binding sounds, and especially the fact that N and R actually know each other and are on relatively good terms is intriguing. That said, I struggled with it a bit as well: sometimes it felt like the narrative was playing with my expectations deliberately, and other times it just felt like I as a reader was missing information that I should have or be able to glean. (Or getting mixed messaging, in some cases - I think it's totally possible to have two people, or a person and a demon in this case, who are very friendly with each other but don't always like each or trust each other, but this draft didn't quite hit that balance, it felt more like contradiction than tension to me.)

I think part of this is that I often (not always, there are places where it works well!) don’t have a very good sense of how N feels about things or what the stakes are for the conversations that are happening here.

On a micro level, the interpersonal dynamic between the two of them is working fairly well for me – although I’m curious to know how much of N’s initial happy-to-see-you attitude was genuine. On a macro level I don’t feel I quite have enough to fully pull me into the chapter. This pretty much reads like a normal conversation about accounting between two people, if one of them happened to be a demon. We have some sense that the information she’s fishing for is important only because N is fishing for it, but we don’t know why or have any sense of scale for the potential conflict here. Obviously you don’t need to tell us exactly what it is, but it would be good to have some hints: is N’s interest personal? Is there a broader conflict that may affect bigger parts of the world? Etc.

And yes, as @kais and @Mandamon  have said, we need an inciting incident, or to be clearer on what the inciting incident is.

On 8/11/2020 at 7:48 AM, Mandamon said:

pg 14: "She resisted the urge to change her shirt,"
--this still reads weird. Maybe if it was resisting the urge to take her shirt off, instead.

Agree. Or, since N is trying to hide her reactions from him to  some degree, she could be resisting the urge to roll up her sleeves or some such.

On 8/11/2020 at 4:17 PM, kais said:

since it really feels like she's done this before.

Absolutely it does.

On 8/16/2020 at 6:22 PM, Turin Turambar said:

Is there? I don't remember that at all...

In reference to the aged baby powder, I believe.

On 8/17/2020 at 2:56 AM, TheDwarfyOne said:

P. 15. Maybe think of italicising the French.

I actually appreciated that the French wasn't italicised. Writing and publishing types have actually been having some discussions about this in the last few years. Traditionally italicizing non-English languages has been the convention, but there's been some discussion cropping up in the last few years pointing out that that can be, well, kind of ridiculous and have effects that you don't intend. So there are at least some places that are starting to get away from that.

Personally I'm generally in favour of leaving the languages non-italicized, but if you end up getting traditionally published maybe be prepared to fight your copy editor for it.

On 8/17/2020 at 4:55 AM, shatteredsmooth said:

I missed this completely, but if others didn't, maybe I had just read too quickly.  

Nope, I missed this too.

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Hey, sorry it's taken me so long to get back here critiquing. I hope that these comments are still of some help.
 
(page 1)
 
- The first line confused me somewhat. I thought the story was third person at first, because the first line starts with a name, but also contains 'my'. (Edit: I guess this is a first person POV remnant.)
 
- The apartment does not look like the interior 'of' a magazine but an interior in a magazine. I know, quibbling, but precision in language makes a difference to the effect created, and to standing out to industry professionals, I would think. Or maybe not standing out for the wrong reasons.
 
- Suggest 'old and shedding coach', otherwise it sounds like at ‘shedding couch' is a special kind of couch, IMO.
 
- The references to the photographs of Nova: I feel it’s a bit odd she’s got photographs of herself on the wall but not with family, by the sound of it. Maybe it’s meant to seem odd. Also, tense issue with the phrase ‘would be taken’: these pictures are already on the wall so they’ve already been taken. also, the green screen thing and photo shop seems a relevant doesn’t add to tension it’s a distraction, IMO. Not sure it’s a thing. I’m not familiar with this concept. It raises a question that it doesn’t answer, IMO.
 
- Question: why is there a wooden cabinet against the window? Surely that blocks the light? Oh, is that the point? If so, maybe just state that to avoid reader confusion?
 
- Detail: surely she’s already standing on the carpet if she is in the room? If it’s a rug, then okay.
 
- Good detail about the child. That makes me think about the character. However something about N makes me think she is young. So, her having a 16-year-old child threw me slightly. I think it’s the description of the flat how untidy it is makes me think teenager for some reason.
 
(page 2)
 
- The Celtic knots: I don’t believe there is enough baby powder in the bottle to form these patterns. I have a little experience of baby powder as a father, and the bottles aren’t that big, in my recollection. Question: how does she get baby powder on her hands if she is pouring it from the bottle?
 
- The couch: surely this is her couch and she is familiar with it. Why would she put up with a couch in such poor condition? How can she sit and watch TV expecting a spring to stab her at any moment? Doesn't seem likely.
 
- I like the moment the smoke starts to appear. Nicely played, low key, letting the weirdness speak for itself.
 
- "N began to see flashes of fire inside the pentagram." - I think describing the MC seeing or otherwise sending something is distancing. It's something that bugs my consistently, because, if this was 'Flashes fire lit up in the pentagram' (for example) it's much more immediate and puts the reader in the moment, rather than sensing everything the filter/lens of the character. Everything is through that lens, it doesn't need to be stated.
 
- More nice description of the manifestation with sparks and smells, nice. I like the fire extinguisher line :) 
 
- "And left only a demon in its place" - What function does 'only' play in this sentence? I can't see any value for it. Is it supposed to be ironic? Doesn't work for me.
 
- Like the double eyes very much. I think the description of them could be more effective, pack more punch. How are they configured? :: or .. ..? What is the quality of the blueness? Okay, baleful, but what does that look like?
 
(page 3)
 
- Another POV remnant slip.
 
- "bathed in... every morning" - LOL.
 
- You start calling it a devil on Page 3. I'd stick with demon or devil: mixing the two seems vague to me. These are different things, surely?
 
- "massive beringed taloned hand" - awkward phrasing. I think you need a comma between the adjectives, or maybe 'and'.
 
- How can a pattern be 'awful'? I don't get this, don't know what to picture. And...'a cork'? Confused.
 
- "reminded her of a tsunami crashing on a rocky beach" - I'm pretty sure a tsunami doesn't crash (or break) on the beach. Isn't that the point, it runs way inland? I don't make a habit of watching tsunami vids--too scary (shudder)--but I think it's worth checking this. The more accurate the language, the fewer readers are thrown out of the narrative. ALSO, how does N know what a tsunami sounds like?
 
- "She droned on, and began to let her mind wander as her mouth recited" - I do not think one lets one's mind wander. I think it wanders of its own accord, before one realises it. I'm presuming she's trying to concentrate on the ritual, so the wandering happens without her 'conscious permission'.

- "whole litany takes a few minutes, and She began" - tense error and typo.

- "obey the spirit and not the letter" - I like this, I like that you've thought about sneaky alternative interpretations of instruction. In passing though, surely it's necessary for the demon to obey the spirit and the letter?

- "His teeth extended from it’s mouth" - I think this is another drafting remnant. If the demon is a 'he', it should be 'his mouth', of course. Notwithstanding that, it should also be 'its' not 'it's'. I know you know these things, but I feel obliged to mention them when they crop up in a submission.

(page 4)

- "Do you stuff empty compliments down the throat" - Whoa! This got smutty really fast.

- "cursed myself for giving R personal information" - But she didn't really. The friend's name could be any number of names starting with 'Sa...'.

- "take you up on the offer comptable" - What word it this?

(page 5)

- "Only his deep blue eyes remained the same" - all four of them?

- "need a shaeding license" - what is this word? Confused.

(page 7)

- Okay, there are lots of grammar issues, tense slips and things, and I'm getting distracted by them. I'm going to stop mentioning them at this point, since I've got a way to go in the sub. I'm enjoying it, but the drafting is frustrating.

- I like the easy camaraderie between the two. It has reduced the stakes after the fear and portent of the summoning, but if R is going to be her sidekick that's probably okay. BUT, at Page 6 in the story, I need some stakes. What is the plot? Where is the tension, threat, conflict? What does the character want? These are things that need to be up front in the story, Page 1 or 2, IMO. I need something to buy into, to really engage my curiosity, and all I've got is this oddball relationship. It's good, but I need plot and motivation.

- "quaint, narrow street" - doesn't tell me why the street is quaint: what does quaint look like?

- The entire Maryland what?

- stucco: cliche. I don't know how many buildings in modern Mediterranean cites and towns are stucco (although I have been to Italy and South of France multiple times), but it's very few, I think. I totally accept this description applies to quaint little villages and the historic parts of modern cities and towns, but I think this makes everywhere in the Med sound like it's 300 years old, which it's not. I know this could be seen as nitpicking but it was my reaction to the line.

- "It was manned by a man who was dwarfed by the huge apron he wore" - I don't actually know what size the man is. The apron could be exceptionally big.

- "Greek folk music"

- "I already know what you want." - How? Private joke that I don't get.

- "man who looked like he should live in the restaurant" - What does this look like? Nobody lives in a restaurant, so I've got no comparison.

(page 8)

- "You told me in your letter that you’d tell me why you wanted to eat with me." - I think this is the first line of your story: "N opened the mail one day and found a letter from a demon inviting her to lunch" or something like it. It creates mystery, introduces the main character as someone interesting enough for a demon to invite to lunch, and of course the fact that there are demons in this world. That is basically all I know from the first seven pages of the story so far. I can't think of anything else significant in terms of plot, but all the details can follow. I know it blows the reveal of the summoning scene, but this illustrates my point about the opening, and hitting the reader with something that gives motivation.

- "We’re not eating yet, jeune" - This is French for young, but it's an adjective. If he means 'youngster' it would be 'enfant' (child), or 'petite file' is little girl, or, if he's going for a term of endearment, 'ma petite chou' literally is my little cabbage, but it is used as a term like 'sweetie'.

- Really, really don't need to use the guy's name twice in the same sentence. If there are only two people in a scene, and one is male, the other female, once, twice or three times on the page is enough in terms of name use, IMO. Don't take my word for it though, consider in whatever novel you're reading at the moment* how often the author uses character names. (*assuming it's major press, professionally edited / published)

- "An older man caught Nova’s eye, glanced at Raphael, then winked conspiratorially. Then he froze." - I've got no idea what happened. I don't understand the wink, or why the old man froze.

- I like him implanting thoughts is huge wealth in her head. I totally bought her reaction, and was going to complain about money as a motivation, but the timing was really nice. Well done. Also, N looks competent because she read the situation.

- "In N's research..." - Yes, this is good, the kind of thing I want much earlier. What is N? What does she do, and why? It's back to character motivation, which is closely linked to one's profession (usually). Not necessarily the whole demon description--which works here because they're in the restaurant--but an earlier indication of what N's motivation is. So, in this scene I've learned that he's paying her, but I don't know why, so I still don't understand her motivation, despite thinking I was going to learn it here.

(page 9)

- What kind of restaurant is this that you have to get your own food? I thought it was a nice, sit down, table service sort of place, but it's basically a cafe? Not even a diner, where there would be service.

- Polish: I guess this is an early draft. I've stopped pulling typos and things, as I noted before, but I think it's worth a comment about the prose in general. Wordiness is an issue, and that can be polished down in later drafts, and through practice of style and economy of language. Smoothness of the reading experience is important to engage readers, but absolutely vital to progress to publication or representation. e.g. this sentence "Since the occasion had called for something special, she had ordered salmon fillet, which was more expensive than what she normally would have ordered." I don't know why it's a special occasion, so I'm on the back foot to begin with, but set that aside. 24 words in this sentence. I'm thinking something like 'This occasion deserved something special, so she'd pushed the boat out, and ordered Raph the salmon.' The point is flow, avoiding repeating words, going for style and author voice (whatever that might be). We're all trying to find it, but it's something worth searching for because it can set any author apart from other and make them stand out.

- (1) His portion is somewhere a lot and piggish - Nova had (2) ordered him a double helping for him. She cut him some slack. (3) He was seven feet tall and looked to be solid muscle. (1) What does this mean? (2) repeated word (typo, I guess); (3) But he doesn't, he's appearing as a podgy older man.

- Confused. Do they both have salmon? It's not clear, I think. She has a plate and he has a bowl, but it sounds like he only has salad?

(page 10)

- "R readjusted his teeth so that he could fit his fork" - Excellent! I love these very deadpan little demon details that remind the reader he's a demon and can do weird, gross and scary stuff, like this.

- "wiggled to a better position, pulling it out of her back pocket" - great description of this action, which everyone will recognise. Good job.

- The phone looks drab, but it's pink? Drab and pink are opposites. This description doesn't work for me.

(page 11)

- How would his gaze bind her with lethargy? I thought greed was his thing, not sloth.

- "Several hours of work should be plenty of time to extract the information that she wanted from him." - This seems to be the motivation, part of the plot, or something like it, but I don't understand. It's not clear. As the reader, I want a clear explanation of what is going on, what she does, why and where the story is going. The characters are pretty engaging, and there are some really nice lines, but there is still no tension, no plot and no character motivation. Wealth in itself is not a valid motivation, certainly not entertaining anyway.

(page 12)

- James? Michael? Confused.

- "paid...at the turn of each century" - excellent, love that. 

- "people swore to R" - not quite sure of how this whole process works/adds up, but it's very interesting. Well done, although I have a growing concern about how this will make me feel about N.

- So, are Michael and James vassals that live in 'hell'? I'd consider carrying the names, from an ethnicity perspective, to be more diverse.

- Why has she not asked R these question before? I figure she would know these details if she is what I recall you said she was.

(page 13)

- "There’s nine layers" - 'They are nine layers'. If R can speak French, he should blooming well speak English properly ;) 

- "all of this new information" - Nope, I don't buy this at all. The story is set up that she's been acting for R for a spell before the story started. She knew him, has numerical data in his operations. These are newly question, and I think they are there solely to acquaint the reader with these details, But I feel this does not work logically. 

- So, the layers are not actual layers, like strata. Also, there's...........weather? :blink: Huh. Who'd have thunk it.

(page 14)

- Ah!!! Well done. There is nothing quite as satisfying for the reader, I think, as when the main character asks the exact question that the reader does.

- Earth needs too be capitalised. Otherwise, it's just dirt.

- "D is female" - Of course she is. N should know that, IMO. Dina Washington, Dina Carroll, Dina Meyer, Dina Asher-Smith: it's pretty clearly a female name, IMO. I don't think it's worth making it an issue, drawing attention to it.

- I think you run a finger across columns. When the finger runs side-to-side, it's more likely to be following one from across a number of columns, I think.

- "She resisted the urge to change her shirt" - What?!?!?! She cannot do that in the middle of a restaurant. For one thing, she doesn't ave a spare shirt, but that is not the main reason.

(page 15)

- "War may be a très bien opportunity" - This would be 'tres bonne'. Tres bien means 'very well'. (Maybe this is the point at which you tell me you're French, and that R is being deliberately incorrect. But I did study French for five years, and have visited France about 10 times. I pretty confident about these comments.)

- I'm not following the comments about the numbers. Look into the seven? Sure thing. (This means that 993 of his vassals behaved normally, right?) But why five out of seven?

(page 16)

- I don't believe that R would not notice the man watching her, and might be likely to ask about him.

(page 17)

- R talking about work is clunky. He uses the word 'work' three time in three lines.

- "With beggars, they barely had a choice" - This sounds like she's buying to to his philosophy.

(page 18)

- Although it doesn't do anything to push the story forward into the next chapter, I kinda like the ending and the world continuing beyond the glass.

OVERALL 

There are plenty of points on the writing itself in terms of wordiness; lack of clarity; hiding information from the reader; etc, as mentioned, but there is definitely the basis of a good story here. I really like the idea. I'll come back to what I think are the most important things. At the end of the chapter, I still don't know what motivates N to do what she does, and that has to be up front in the story. Also, plot. What is the plot? Okay, we've got talk of another meeting, but we just had a meeting that didn't really push the story forward into the next chapter, I guess there is the mysterious man, who I presume it going to talk to her now, but there is nothing in terms of plot filling me with a need to keep reading.

Sometimes, I think we follow the 'rules' of writing, or at least the guidance that we've soaked up along the way, too slavishly. I think this chapter could do with so more telling of information to the reader to help the clarity. Just tell us what N's goals are (New apartment? Pay for her mother's heart transplant? Cast down the evil demon?), or give her a clear mission from the demon (like, find out who is swinging me or I will take your soul). Writing Excuses do say that though that there is a time for telling, and sometimes it's in the only effective way of getting certain information across to the reader.

I hope this is useful.

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