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ginger_reckoning

10.5.20 - ginger_reckoning - ALITC - ch1 (4417)

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Thanks again for all of the responses this week. Here is chapter one, in which we meet the MC. The book will be split into three acts, each preceded by a quote from an in-world text called the "Words of Boz" which is why that is in there. 

 
I'm also including the summary notes, which includes the maps, a magic-system chart, and a short synopsis. Hopefully those are helpful. 
 
Thanks!
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I had some trouble getting into the first few pages, as the MC has a pretty juvenile sense of humor, and the first few jokes ran on a long time. Past that, this was a pretty interesting chapter, and had a good hook to bring the reader into the book. Having now read this, I don't think your prologue is necessary, nor are the first few pages of the first chapter. You could start with hiding in the cave and the old woman, and that would still give a lot of personality for A. as well as get to the meat of the hook a lot sooner.

Interested to read more!

Notes while reading:

pg 2: “It’s more desert!” 
--I get the joke, but this also negates the tension raised in the first sentence. The reader's engagement is now suspended on the strength of the joke, rather than the story.

pg 2: "Um, well from basically "
--the dialog here is pretty juvenile-sounding. Are these all children?

pg 3: hmm...ok, we get to the resolution of the joke and there is actual information, but I'm sort of disengaged with the story now.

pg 3: "Birdrock, his home"
--he already said "hometown" so this is redundant.

pg 4: "The man was huge"
--ok, at least two of the group is men. I'm wondering if A is younger.

pg 5: "He could feel sweat forming on the edges of his hair."
--like, at the tips of the hair? I don't think that's how sweat works.

pg 5: “My thoughts exactly,” 
--coming to the end of this first section, I'm now guessing A is about the same age as the others, or at least adult. I am getting a good sense of his personality, but I was thrown off by the sort of forced joking at the beginning. I think maybe pulling back from that just a bit at the beginning will help draw the reader in more.

pg 7: “Yeah, well just so you know, I spit in the water. So ha. Joke’s on you.”
--well, it was a touching moment...I'm sort of irritated by A's sense of humor.

pg 13: The rest of this is pretty engaging, actually. I'm glad to see a tie-in with the prologue, though I'm not completely sure how needed it is. I think the first part of this could be cut down, really to the point where they're finding shelter in the cave and escaping bandits. Then the old woman giving him her light is a really good hook for the story.

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28 minutes ago, Mandamon said:

Having now read this, I don't think your prologue is necessary, nor are the first few pages of the first chapter. You could start with hiding in the cave and the old woman, and that would still give a lot of personality for A. as well as get to the meat of the hook a lot sooner.

I haven't ever considered this... would it be too confusing to not know who the woman was? 

31 minutes ago, Mandamon said:

pg 2: “It’s more desert!” 
--I get the joke, but this also negates the tension raised in the first sentence. The reader's engagement is now suspended on the strength of the joke, rather than the story

31 minutes ago, Mandamon said:

pg 7: “Yeah, well just so you know, I spit in the water. So ha. Joke’s on you.”
--well, it was a touching moment...I'm sort of irritated by A's sense of humor

That's why I like feedback like this. Thanks for pointing that out. 

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1 hour ago, ginger_reckoning said:

I haven't ever considered this... would it be too confusing to not know who the woman was? 

I think it would be much more interesting for the reader to slowly find out about the gods and the powers they grant as the book goes along. We don't need a POV from the lady in the prologue, because she's now dead and (I assume) doesn't show up again. This leads into some of the comments that the characters in the prologue were overpowered. Building up to what the magic can do is a lot more interesting that getting it splashed across the first few pages.

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Overall

6 hours ago, Mandamon said:

Having now read this, I don't think your prologue is necessary, nor are the first few pages of the first chapter. You could start with hiding in the cave and the old woman, and that would still give a lot of personality for A. as well as get to the meat of the hook a lot sooner.

I completely agree

5 hours ago, ginger_reckoning said:

I haven't ever considered this... would it be too confusing to not know who the woman was? 

I don't think so. It's a mystery that will keep the reader reading for sure.

 

As I go

- pg 3: I'd really like to know what these people look like and what their surroundings look like. I'm adrift

- pg 4: The man was huge <-- these are adults???

- pg 5: I have no idea what these characters look like, or where they are. I can't place anything to the names except one is a woman. Definitely need more description through here, and we need to get to the inciting incident, or the stakes, much sooner. Right now I just feel completely lost and unsure why I care about a bunch of juvenile adults mucking around a desert

- pg 6: I suspect the chapter really starts on this page

- pg 7: yes, definitely cut the first five pages. this is much more engaging already

- pg 8: I still have no idea what anyone looks like, or what their surroundings look like

- pg 8: He studied the old woman as she lay on the stone, coughing weakly. She really was old. Her skin was dark—darker, even, than A's—and laced with heavy wrinkles <-- first description at all, and it calls out dark skin. Yellow flag.

- pg 9: her hair is different, and her skin isn’t really the same shade as you guys. <-- possibly insinuating more melanin='the other'. Second yellow flag

- the next paragraph helps some, but not as much as I'd like it to

- I do like the pg 12 scenes a lot. Good hooks here. I think the chapter then drags on too long. Ending near or just after: Except…A didn’t feel cursed. would work better and keep tension higher, I think. Finding a way out doesn't do anything for me because I don't care about the characters yet, and I can't even start to visualize their world.

 

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I enjoyed the light tone and fast pacing of your story. It's a nice introduction where A, H, and F all come through as distinct people.

A few things I noticed:

Second sentence is really wordy, possibly could use some rearranging.

"Keeper of L..." It seems like this is an expression but its placement and the comma afterwards reads strangely.

Rocks: "just a foot off the ground..." sounds like they're floating... unless they are floating? 

The paragraph starting, "A- jogged over..." you've got a double 'realized' in close proximity. 

I'm ok with a character with a juvenile sense of humor, but would prefer it with more sense of depth behind it. It felt like A is J from the prequel, they have similar dialogue patterns and behavior. 

Thanks for sharing!

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Thanks @Sarah B!

1 hour ago, Sarah B said:

Rocks: "just a foot off the ground..." sounds like they're floating... unless they are floating

Ha, whoops. That would be cool, but they are not. I will change the wording. 

1 hour ago, Sarah B said:

I'm ok with a character with a juvenile sense of humor, but would prefer it with more sense of depth behind it. It felt like A is J from the prequel, they have similar dialogue patterns and behavior

For this reason, I am defientely going to be toning it down a bit. It seems like its mostly not landing how I thought it would, and the fact that it sounds identical to J is a problem. I think I'll follow @kais and @Mandamon's advice and just cut that first section altogether. Thanks!

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Comments.

(page 1)

- LOL. I'm still not sure I have quite got the tone of the story down. This opening is very humorous, but there are other bits that are quite dark. Nothing especially grim as such. Still, this opening is well done: made me chortle.

(page 2)

- Good opening. I get a good sense of the heat.

- Okay, so first page of the novel proper...there is a lot of joking and winking going on here. It's all very casual. A pulls the same 'gag' twice (sort of) in withholding info from his companions in order to make a joke, but he's doing that from the reader too. Feels to me like he's trying really hard to be the joker, and not being funny, really only managing annoying. There's a fellow on a stretcher with a bad head injury, lost in the desert (with limited water?), and he's is joking around. I'd be ready to give him a slap if I was one of the others, I think, certainly after any length of time.

(page 3)

- "You could have just said that in the first place" - Yeah, I'm with H.

- Good description of A's upbringing, in comparison to the others. nicely done.

(page 4)

- I like the line about A being jealous of F carrying the stretcher, but why would A not relieve the female in the party if F is a massive brute, shoe presumably is stronger than H? Then, he tells H to shut up?! Seems a touch on the homophobia side to me. I don't know how else to read it.

- I...what? The joking with H, okay I get it. Is she a ly-a-whatsit too?

- "The heat actually was quite bad" - Massive understatement. You've spent a number of pages establishing the heat, so this line falls flat for me.

(page 5)

- I think you can cut down the number of instances of A's name in the second half of the page. I think there are too many. If there is only one man being referred to, 'he/him' will do fine.

- The dialogue around here is quite boring, IMO. For one thing, if they are all really hot and exhausted, seems to me they would not waste words on inane statements. All the words, especially all the spoken words, should be doing work adding to plot, character, setting, etc. So, for example the "My thoughts..." line adds nothing, IMO.

(page 6)

- Four uses of 'had' in two lines is overdoing it, I think. Can easily cut 'some'.

- "head rested on the wall behind him" - 'resting', IMO.

- "It seemed an ominous sign to A" - (a) 'seemed' is a very passive and vague word, and therefore not very engaging; (b) We know we are in A's POV, so you don't to tell the reader it feels so to him, we know that intrinsically.

- The recap of the ambush is okay, but action like that is always going to sound a bit dry when recounted later. I was almost skimming. I'm not suggesting you play out the attack, I don't think that would be a good idea, and would mirror too much the prologue. I just wonder if there is some interesting and innovative way to convey the same information that is more entertaining.

- "seemed they had majorly underestimated" - Because we are in A's POV, and because he comes over as a borderline annoying adolescent, I'm going to grit my teeth and pass over this word. It can work in dialogue, of course, because characters can say whatever they want, but I think you have to be careful about using it in narrative. Okay, if it's used ironically, for example, fair enough, but IMO, narrative should be effective, elegant and entertaining, also, authoritative. I think readers want to be convinced of the writer's depth of knowledge of, and skill with, language. I don't think 'majorly' conveys that, TBH.

- "Was this the same storm, following the bandits as they marched by in the night?" - Eh? How could that be? How did they get so far ahead of it if it is the same storm?

(page 7)

- "Thanks for the water before. It really meant a lot." - I feel that this is overplayed. It was just a drink of water, was A not going to offer it? Okay, you expand on the simple statement a bit, but since the nature of relations in this platoon is not established beforehand, we don't know if the sharing was a big deal or not. If they all bullied A, then him turning around a sharing water is massive, I agree, but if they are all friendly and cooperative, sharing water would be expected.

- If he didn't......what? Frustrated at this being withheld.

- "Someone was out there." - Passive: 'There was someone out there.' or better still, if you put it in dialogue or internal monologue 'There's someone out there.'

- "He quickly pulled his sand goggles over his eyes and covered his mouth and nose with his sleeve" - Surely, he would do that before he went out, since he has experience in this environment.

- "he realized with apprehension that whoever it was" - Not required. Let the reader interpret the tension in his realisation.

- "He then realized that he didn’t really care." - (a) Same as the point above. It's his POV, this is unnecessary; (b) vague, suggest delete. The word 'really' adds absolutely nothing to this sentence.

(page 8)

- "But he didn’t think it was a bandit anyway." - Superfluous.

- "Don’t worry, miss" - Missing comma.

- "She’s your girlfriend" - Crude, #dislike.

(page 9)

- Something has been bugging me in these eight pages, and I have not been able to lay my finger on it: I think I just have. I mentioned before about not really feeling anything for the characters in the prologue, and that has largely true. The same issue arrises here. I've been finding A annoying, and don't really have much reason to feel anything for the others. What is there in them for me to invest my interest in? they are soldiers, in the desert, got ambushed, struggling to get out. I know nothing about their situation, what their motivations are, their life goals, their beliefs and the stakes in the world at large. 

So, what is bugging me though about what I've read so far? There is peril, tension between the characters, that should carry me a certain distance into the story. I realised at this point that this feels like a short story. In a short story, it's often the case that you don't get a great deal of character buildup, or world building, because there simple is not the space to do it. Here, we delve straight into action, and I'm expecting the events of the story to be the largest part of its substance (as in a short, often). However, the events themselves are not that surprising or unusual; they don't real me in a snag me. The things happening to date in these first eight pages are pretty much exactly what I would expect to happen in this situation. No surprises, no intrigue, no mystery, not to the extent that it snags me enough to draw me into a novel.

- "was more of a true brown" - Hmm, racial coding proximity sensor alarm. How do you define 'true brown'? That could be shaky ground.

- "snapped out of his reverie" - I don't think he was in a reverie, he was engaged in conversation with the group, which is not my definition of reverie.

(page 10)

- "scrape off the scales" - Hmm, I'm no expert on field cooking, but the meat would cook quicker if it was skinned first. Also, is the skin not going to be really tough? I'd have though they'd need to skin it before eating. I wonder how a bush-tucker expert would prepare.........:rolleyes: oops,  not going there.

- "Behind him, the fire blazed as F blew on it" - it does not sound to me like the fire was going down. Unless they were lighting it from scratch, I don't think blowing on it will do anything. If it's burning enough to cook lizard, I reckon all they need to do is add fuel, not air.

- "pinched a tiny bit of meat in his fingers" - The skin will hold to together.

- "Oblivion,” she wheezed" - Oh, at this point I realised that this is probably Al from the prologue?

- SOOOOOO, this right here is the first thing about the chapter that has piqued my interest. I agree that this is something you would want near the end of the chapter, however I'm thinking that it takes too long to get to this point (9 pages). I feel like what you have in the first nine pages could easily be compressed in, say, six pages.

(page 11)

- "She breathed out a protracted sigh, becoming limp. And then she didn’t breathe again." - Considering how good a lot of the description is, this is very weak and undramatic description of someone dying, IMO.

- "It happened whenever anyone died." - I thought this was over-explained. I think it's pretty obvious what's going on. I'm not saying don't explain it, but I think you can give the reader more credit for understand that the old lady is passing, and fill in the more obvious details.

- "After three years of fighting and dying" - This sounds like he's been dying, which he hasn't, I presume.

- "for a few moments of memoriam" - RI really dislike this phrasing. The latin phrase is 'in memoriam', and I think it would read much better to replace 'of' with 'in'.

- "collecting in around itself" - Typo: extra word.

(page 12)

- "now easily as big as she was, likely bigger" - Be specific, we don't care where it's slightly smaller or slightly bigger than she is. Be certain about details that don't matter, IMO.

- "It physically hit into A" - IMO, these words are redundant, they don't add anything, the sentence is clearer without them. Also, 'hit' is a kind of lame word in this context. 'It smacked into A'. I mean, it has to be physical, really don't need that.

- "He watched" - this sounds very passive, like he is removed from it, not actually experiencing it at all.

- "it had all surged into him" - Kind of wordy, and jumbled, IMO.

- The description of the critical moment doesn't work that well for me, for the various reasons noted above. This is about the only instance of description in the chapter that hasn't hit the mark for me. I think it can be more urgent, pack and bigger punch, through more effective word choice and clearer, shorter description.

- "Besides that, it was reminiscent of M and his infamous genocide" - hard to feel much about this as I don't know anything about it.

- "And I don’t feel Tel" - Why would he? I don't understand this line.

(page 14)

- "She had a quiet dignity to herself in death" - grammar.

- "Sunrise" - Dawn, surely? Or twilight, i.e. when the sky lightens, but the sun is not visible above the horizon. Sunrise (or sunset) is defined as the period where the line of the horizon interrupts the sun's disc.

- "They had stayed awake the whole night, apparently." - We know it's apparent, we just read it. Really don't need this.

- "What an eventful day" - Today or yesterday?

- "Suddenly, he spotted something" - IMO, this is redundant. The quickest anything can happen is by writing it on the page. Saying it happened suddenly does not make it happen any quicker for the reader.

OVERALL 

I won't repeat my comments about the earlier sections of the chapter, as they are all noted above. The last few pages after the appearance of the 'old women', didn't really land for me. They should have been dramatic and exciting, wondering at the soul light going into A, but somehow that bit felt flat for me. I just don't think the description of it did the moment justice. Also, the reaction of the characters, all three of them, we really flat and unsurprised, almost emotionless. I think this needs more work, especially the ending.

Thanks for sharing. I hope these comments are helpful :) 

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On 06/10/2020 at 3:45 PM, ginger_reckoning said:

For this reason, I am defientely going to be toning it down a bit. It seems like its mostly not landing how I thought it would, and the fact that it sounds identical to J is a problem. I think I'll follow @kais and @Mandamon's advice and just cut that first section altogether. Thanks!

There were things I enjoyed about the first section, and my favourite moment in this chapter was the point at which I realised that the old woman was Al from the prologue, which you lose of course by cutting it.

This set me to thinking if there was a way to keep something of the prologue and retain the moment of recognition. 

Spoiler

If it was me (which it is not), I'd be tempted to try cutting the prologue way, way down to something like half a page, and have Al facing off against the automatons among the ruins of the hall, fires burning, dust, bits of ceiling falling down; she's wounded, on her last legs, not going to make it; dead bodies all around, G and J are dead beside her, and she is just about to unleash heck on the automatons, take them out with her, and she is thinking about anything important you want her to think about from the prologue. She raises her hands, drawing all the power she can and says a pithy line of dialogue then......CUT!!!

<Chapter 1> EXT, a desert: bright sun, intense heat.......

 

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@RobinskiI wish I had seen these earlier! All super good feedback (especially with grammar) 

2 hours ago, Robinski said:

This set me to thinking if there was a way to keep something of the prologue and retain the moment of recognition

And ooooh! I really like that idea! I might just try something like that out.

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7 hours ago, ginger_reckoning said:

@RobinskiI wish I had seen these earlier! All super good feedback (especially with grammar) 

And ooooh! I really like that idea! I might just try something like that out.

Hey, that's my bad, I only posted them last night, so I'm sure you had revised the chapter already. Still trying to get caught up!

Cool, yeah, it would be like having a really intense scene but cutting all the fighting which doesn't often work right at the start of the story, IMO. It would put a lot of weight on your descriptive skills, but I think they are there to begin with.

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I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the sense of urgency I should be feeling for these characters in this chapter. The actual information we’re getting seems to suggest they’re in bad shape, because they’re lost in the desert hauling an injured person (and seem to be really light on supplies?) but the tone suggests that they’re just taking a short jaunt through the desert on a particularly hot day. Similarly, it’s not all that clear from the tone that the injured party is in imminent danger. I wasn’t sure until halfway down p3, when Am mentions the need to find a doctor, what the extent of this person’s injury was.

I’m also wondering how long they’ve been out here. If it’s been a while, they should probably be in much worse shape than they seem to be here; if it hasn’t been, I’m wondering how they got so lost.

“Unit 304…” Oh, so they’re a military unit? I definitely did not have that impression – the only other hint of that so far was the earlier paragraph about uniforms. The way they interact with each other seems pretty loose, not what I would expect from a military unit, and they (Am in particular) read as fairly young. Honestly, until the comment about the uniforms I’d assumed they were wandering teenagers who’d gotten into a brawl or something.

Having read the chapter through, I find myself wondering why this isn’t the prologue. This reads like it’s setting our protag up with the abilities he’ll need to face whatever the inciting incident is in the next chapter.

I think @Mandamon is spot-on about cutting down some of the introductory stuff at the beginning – the banter between the group draws out how long it takes to get to the actual point of interest (the cave) significantly, and the humour isn’t strong enough to carry the narrative that far. All it really needs to do, I think, is to establish Am’s sense of humour.

I’d also agree with most of the group that knowing who Al isn’t necessary. Really what this chapter is telling us is how Am gets the abilities that (I assume) he’ll manifest in later chapters. All of the other information that we’ve received from the prologue really doesn’t contribute to our understanding; all three POV characters are (as far as we know) dead, and the cultural context has clearly changed between now and then… which means we will need a greater understanding of the current cultural understanding and what lead up to it in future chapters anyway.

I’d definitely second @Sarah B's comment that Am felt like a rehash of J from the prologue, as well as @kais's comments about needing more description of the people. Their comments re: skin colour and the way that’s presented are excellent to take into consideration too (i.e. try to avoid only describing skin colours, etc for characters that aren’t supposed to be read as white, as this makes those characters stick out as “different” solely due to the colour of their skin).

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5 hours ago, Silk said:

Their comments re: skin colour and the way that’s presented are excellent to take into consideration too (i.e. try to avoid only describing skin colours, etc for characters that aren’t supposed to be read as white, as this makes those characters stick out as “different” solely due to the colour of their skin).

Ok, so this is obviously a problem and I won't try to pretend it's not, but what I'm trying to go for is to show that none of these characters are white. The only main character who we would see as white is DK in the next chapter. So I'm trying to let the reader know that before they get too far in with the assumption that they are white when they are not. However, I don't want this to seem offensive to anyone, so is there a better way to show this? 

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Hmm.  I actually think you've gone some way to address this in the newer version of the chapter by adding more description just in general; in this version, the fact that A was described as dark while the other characters didn't have much description at all in this version would make it easy to assume that the remaining characters are white (which unfortunately is going to be the default assumption of a lot of readers anyway). Aside from that, I think what makes this scene potentially problematic is that Al, the one character who clearly isn't white, is identified as such by the rest of the characters discussing that she's obviously Not From Around Here (which can be exoticizing/othering).

I think the other thing I'd suggest is that when you get to the second chapter, make sure that D is as clearly described as the other characters so that it's as clear that she's white as it's clear the others are not.

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