karamel

11.30.20 - karamel - Flower of Departure - chapter 1 (L, G, V) (3406)

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1 hour ago, Sarah B said:

"Another luxury he was fortunate to have"

See, I think this is just one example of where I picked up (subconsciously, I guess) the vibe that this was not a period piece. It's not that a medieval (my stopgap phrase) world would not know luxury, or the word luxurious, but I would not expect K to have luxuries, or any expectation of having them, which this seems to imply.

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First sub!!! So exciting!!!

Thoughts as I go:

Pg 1, "stubbornness succeeds over logic" I didn't realize my sister was going to be in this story :D

Pg 1, " a never-ending cycle of necessary precaution." Hmmm, so what happens when you don't bury the dead, and is it a magical reason or a superstitious/religious reason?

Pg 1, " started towards the decomposing houses that lay in the center of the desolate little village nearby." Dang, vivid setting for me. I can already picture them leaning, falling over. What happened? Decomposing houses doesn't scream war to me. Starvation? Plague?

Pg 1, "like the earth had never been obstructed" Well, unless there's grass and weeds growing on top, newly dug dirt is obvious. Unless he used a plowed field for a grave. 

Pg 1, "He preferred it this way." I am definitely assuming at this point this isn't his home. Lacking the emotional punch for that. Is he some kind of priest running around dilapidated villages burying the dead? Or is there another reason? It doesn't appear that he killed all of these people...

Pg 2, "sending him further into obscurity." Hmmm...does this mean he fears being forgotten? Further into obscurity already tells me he isn't some legendary gravekeeper. Possible motivation: fame?

Pg 2, "A disgraceful death for a disgraceful father’s son," Depressing outlook. Perhaps burying bodies is his way of looking for honor? Another possible motivation? 

Pg 2, "This has got to be the nicest village we’ve stayed in yet," Dang, what did the bad ones look like then? Why are they hopping from destroyed village to destroyed village? What is destroying everything? I have a lot of questions, but these aren't bad ones. These are the ones that keep me reading, looking for answers.

Pg 2, "His smirk was winsome," Since K's brother is dead, then this is either friend or lover. I'd love a hint on clothing. Clothing can tell you a lot about a setting: hot, cold, humid, which cultures it is inspired by. Names and reference to outer robes and buns are giving me a more Asian feel than Medieval England, which I am all behind. That, or I've been playing too much Ghost of Tsushima and it's bleeding over. I may be biased.

Pg 2, " The village was a polished gem in a pile of fresh dung" Ooof, says something about the world if this place looks promising. 

Pg 2, "it had the potential to be worth something but at what cost?" Stylistic pondering...would it be more powerful as, "it had the potential to be worth something. But at what cost?" Make the reader pause. There's no right or wrong here, this is just me thinking.

Pg 3, “Do you wonder what killed them in this village?” Oooh, this is good information. This is what I was wondering. I didn't get an answer, which turns this into a mystery. Is this the same thing that has happened at the other villages they have visited?

Pg 3, " if we knew how they died we could learn from their mistakes" Example: if everyone died from poisoned well water...don't drink the poisoned well water.

Pg 3, "the living were a whole different story." Cynical, depressed bugger, isn't he? My pessimistic, introverted side responds well to K. I can feel his numb, exhausted apathy in my bones.

Pg 4, "more heavily in areas where people had lived" Not ash. Did the people disintegrate? The mystery pulls me forward. 

Pg 4, "more heavily in areas where people had lived" So something is killing the people, leaving black dust, but not necessarily killing the livestock...

Pg 4, "Did deer migrate? " Good question. I had to Google this. Turns out, whitetail and mule deer do migrate. Huh. Did not know this.

Pg 5, "But he hasn’t wielded a sword in some time." Ex-soldier or mercenary? So he could have had the ability to kill the villagers (although maybe not all of them), but it wasn't him. Still, he has the ability to defend himself. Does this mean N has the same background? Or a different skill set?

Pg 5, " Curiosity is the cousin" This is a good saying. Wish I had come up with this.

Pg 6, "Step." I am assuming K is taking this step and not the retreating person who doesn't seem capable of walking.

Pg 6, " she was discernibly not okay." I feel like this is a wee clunky and not necessary, considering you go on to vividly describe her next. 

Pg 6, “Ask her what happened.” Is N still back in the tree? Why doesn't he just ask himself? Unless....I don't think N is a ghost....

Pg 6, "container of water from his bag" Opportunity for worldbuilding! Is it a gourd? A leather flask? A metal flask?

Pg 6, " By something" Something with black dust???

Pg 7, "Her body was already decomposing" Is this a new twist on zombies? I am down for a new version of the undead. That entire buried village suddenly seems incredibly threatening. 

Pg 7, "I can help you recover" Liar. That woman is already almost dead. 

Pg 8, "He’d never killed a person intentionally" Hmmm, so good at the sword but not at killing? Doesn't sound ex-soldier or mercenary to me. My curiosity is piqued. 

Pg 9, " the black cloth concealing his skin" Fashion or foreshadowing?

N hasn't interacted with the woman at all. I'm slightly convinced at this point he isn't real. 

Pg 11, "Yeah, probably safer that way." Agreed.

Pg 12, “What if all those corpses you buried...come back?” Very valid question.

Pg 12, "A smell that makes your mouth water and stomach turn." Is K a cannibal??? By intention or when forced to survive???? A repentant cannibal who hates the living and buries the dead...I can get behind this. 

Overall:

You've got me interested. We have a bitter protagonist who may or may not be a cannibal and a definite problem: the dead are rising. I'm not sure what his motivations are yet but you've hinted that he definitely has them. There appears to be a depth to K's character. In contrast, N I am still getting a feel for, and his lack of animation and interaction with anything other than K (outside of climbing a tree) makes me wonder if he is actually a figment of K's imagination. 

I struggle with the setting, as there isn't enough definitive description to give me an idea of what kind of biome/technological scale I'm in. There are many different places oak trees can exist. Plus, giving us character/clothing descriptions help. I know men wear their hair in buns, but, again, that could work for any fantasy culture. I'm still leaning Asian-inspired, but still unsure if that is a bias of my current video game choices. 

However, despite the lack of setting, you've got a strong tone. It's gritty, yes, but isn't grimdark necessarily. I hate grimdark, personally, so that would have turned me off immediately. You've told me that there are clear immediate stakes: the dead K likes to hang around can rise up and kill him. However, you've left the mystery of what or who is making the dead rise and what the black dust has to do with it. 

If I was at a bookstore, I'd continue to Chapter Two. Good sign, there.

 

Edited by Snakenaps
Came back and finished what I started.
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1 hour ago, Snakenaps said:

I didn't realize my sister was going to be in this story :D

:lol: 

I mean, I haven't me the lady, but the comic timing in this comment was exquisite.

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So, in some ways, this felt more like a complete short story than it did a novel chapter. With some work on the arc, I think this could actually stand on it's. The end of the chapter felt like the end of the story. It didn't leave me with something to propel me to the next chapter. However, since it says "chapter 1" I'll critique it like a novel chapter, not a short story. 

Despite the gruesome nature of the opening, the imagery drew me in. You somehow managed to make blood and gore pretty. The main character fascinated me and I wanted to knew where all the blood came from.

There was a minute where I thought he was some kind of vampire who killed everyone just so he could have the village, but when it was described as abandoned and the corpses were old, which implied he found it that way. 

"He could deal with the dead well enough, but the living were a whole different story." This line tells me a lot about the character and in some strange way, makes him feel relatable. Not because he is comfortable with the dead, but because people are just hard to deal with. 

"The two headed deep into the forest..." For someone reason I had thought they were going to go look for livestock, based on an earlier line. 

"Surrounding the two young men." They don't seem young to me. They actually felt sort of ancient. Like vampires, except they're not because they need to hunt and gather. 

"His gaze found..." This is type of phrase my instincts say not to write, but I'm not sure if it's because I actually don't like that style phrase or because I've been told not to write like that by so many different people.

"His hand gripped the blade like a mother holding a child..." Not a fan of this metaphor. 

At this point, I'm waiting for something to happen and sort of loosing interest. Everything feels very routine, like they always find abandoned villages full of dead people  and this is just a slice of life. This is something I think tends to work better in short stories than opening chapters of novels. 

"Evergreens in winter, naked without their coats of thin needles." This confused me a little. Aren't evergreens called evergreens because they keep their needles and stay green all winter when other trees loose their leaves? In my area (coastal New England), the trees with needles still have needles in the winter. But maybe this is a completely different kind of tree?

@kais is our resident tree expert. 

OK, I stopped being lazy and googled it. The Internet tells me there are two kinds of pines that lose their needles in the fall. I learned something new today.

"No sense in dwelling on what you couldn't change." There has been lots of introspection. But in a novel opening, I want something to happen first and have introspection later when I am more invested in the character and the stakes. 

Speaking of stakes, I do not know what those are yet. I don't really get a sense of what K's wants and needs are. It's hinted at, but at times, he also seems content. I don't have a strong enough sense of what he wants at this point, and I need that to get invested. 

"A figure, crawling..." OK, now maybe something out of his ordinary is happening. Good. 

In the scene with the woman, she goes from barely being able to make a sound to saying a lot of words very clearly. That pulled me out of my suspended disbelief. It was also a lot information told all at once. Maybe it was a little more than necessary, even.

"Yeah, probably safer that way." There were times when the dialogue felt sort of formal, like it was from a different world, which works because this is fantasy in a secondary world, but then there are times like this when it feels very modern. Eventually, when you get further along in the writing process, it might be good to do a pass focused on the dialogue and make sure the style is consistent throughout. 

K's reaction to the burning flesh was not what I expected and it raises a lot of questions about his past. 

"A smell that you never truly forget no matter how long it's been." There is so much meaning in this one line, yet something about it feels like a end. This, combine with the slice of life, albeit slice of a strange, lonely gruesome life, is what made me think this could be a great short story if you revised focusing more on giving K a complete arc with in the confines of what happens. 

However, he is certainly an interesting enough character to stay with for a whole novel, and you have set up for zombies and maybe a mystery of trying to figure out what killed all those people and/or what created the zombies in the first place. 

I guess this sort of feels like it's in limbo between short story and opening chapter. To make it feel more like a novel, I need a clearer idea of what K wants and needs, and what is at stake if he doesn't get it. I'd want the women to show up sooner, and for some of the introspection to be saved for later. If this is a chapter, I want to end on more of  a cliff hanger. 

Still, I am looking forward to seeing where this goes and hope you do submit the next chapter next week! 

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I see my tree expertise has been called in. Will address when I get there. Also good to see you subbing! This thread has a lot of comments which I have not yet read.

Overall

Hmmm. Well its a reasonably well put together chapter. It has an arc, and a clear goal, and sets up the main story well enough for a first chapter. It just...lacked panache, I think. Up until they met the woman I was on board, but after that I felt like we fell intro trope and cliche with nothing unique to grip. I think maybe just a few added elements would spice it up, like if they see the glint of future zombie in the woman's eyes, or we have more stakes for the two men to draw them into the major zombie plot, etc.

But generally, for a first sub this generally enjoyable. though the tree thing.... :P

As I go

- ooh I'm into the opening paragraph

- pg 1: a never-ending cycle of necessary precaution <-- this is a great line

- though that same paragraph gets heavy on the adjectives

- some tense changes here on page 2

- pg 3: +10 for skin tone descriptions on everyone

- pg 4: pls tell me this is a gay couple. I'm shipping them already

- pg 4: He thought it was ... <-- as a general writing tip, you don't need the 'he thought' if the person is the current POV character. We know it's a thought because the chapter is in their voice

- pg 4: go insane at the prospect of getting lost in the expansive maze of wood sentinels, ever looming above <-- this line is weirdly vague, for how specific everything else has been. Suggest more specific imagery

- pg 5: His hands look lost and empty like the evergreens in winter, naked without their coats of thin needles. <-- wait what? Is he in a forest of tamaracks? Those don't usually grow with oaks. This forest does not make sense. I call forest shenanigans.

- pg 5: could live without the K thinking highly of himself paragraph. Would rather see it than be told

- pg 6: K closed the gap between them. <-- this tells me so much about gender roles in your society. Neither is afraid the moment they discern the person is a woman. Now I want her to like, eat them or something

- pg 7: You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. <-- cliche. I was invested enough up to here, but this line makes me want to put the chapter down. It's too overused. Give us more to go on. Something juicy to keep the tension and excitement

- pg 7: I lost my wife not long ago, <-- this makes me so happy. I don't know at what point this board started routinely attracting queer stories, but I ADORE it

- pg 7: ZOMBIE WIFE

- pg 10: I feel like the killing of the woman is taking too long. It's making the tension lag

 

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42 minutes ago, shatteredsmooth said:

Evergreens in winter, naked without their coats of thin needles." This confused me a little. Aren't evergreens called evergreens because they keep their needles and stay green all winter when other trees loose their leaves? In my area (coastal New England), the trees with needles still have needles in the winter. But maybe this is a completely different kind of tree?

There are a few, but they'd need to be named specifically otherwise readers would o_O

And @Robinski, lucky for you I was in aisle 2 already. Some oak leaves do go bright red, then brown, then hang on FOREVER until they fall in the spring.

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2 hours ago, kais said:

 though the tree thing.... :P

I have let you down by my lack of research :,( how could i be so careless??

2 hours ago, kais said:

- pg 4: pls tell me this is a gay couple. I'm shipping them already

 

*strokes figurative beard* hmmmm >:)

2 hours ago, kais said:

- pg 6: K closed the gap between them. <-- this tells me so much about gender roles in your society. Neither is afraid the moment they discern the person is a woman. Now I want her to like, eat them or something

Okay, I can see where you're coming from. I certainly didn't intend it this way. I am conflicted cause like.. I dont know how to bring up that she is a woman without it sounding this way. I didn't mean it like "oh he finally closed the gap between them after he found out her gender because you know, woman are always harmless creatures." i just needed to speed it up a bit. but then like how does he even know she is a woman? She never said it. but like. she is. so. Idk how to handle it. (help please)

 

Also, thank you very much for tree knowledge, oh wise tree sensei :)

 

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9 hours ago, Snakenaps said:

Pg 2, "His smirk was winsome," Since K's brother is dead, then this is either friend or lover. I'd love a hint on clothing. Clothing can tell you a lot about a setting: hot, cold, humid, which cultures it is inspired by. Names and reference to outer robes and buns are giving me a more Asian feel than Medieval England, which I am all behind. That, or I've been playing too much Ghost of Tsushima and it's bleeding over. I may be biased.

You would be correct in the assumptions of asian feels, though I will have to be more clear on this. Unrelated: How is ghosts of tsushima?

9 hours ago, Snakenaps said:

Pg 4, "more heavily in areas where people had lived" So something is killing the people, leaving black dust, but not necessarily killing the livestock...

Pg 6, “Ask her what happened.” Is N still back in the tree? Why doesn't he just ask himself? Unless....I don't think N is a ghost....

Pg 6, " By something" Something with black dust???

Pg 9, " the black cloth concealing his skin" Fashion or foreshadowing?

N hasn't interacted with the woman at all. I'm slightly convinced at this point he isn't real.

You bring up so many good points and I am so happy that you did :)

9 hours ago, Snakenaps said:

Pg 12, "A smell that makes your mouth water and stomach turn." Is K a cannibal??? By intention or when forced to survive???? A repentant cannibal who hates the living and buries the dead...I can get behind this.

Imma just tell you now that there is no cannibalism... though now that you mention it —wait, no... no cannibalism.

So yeah, this is just a clarity issue (like a lot of my problems)... I interpreted the mouth watering part in two ways. Either he was so hungry that even the smell of a human burning made his mouth water (i heard it smells similar to pork) orrr you know when right before you throw up your mouth waters a lot and you spit a lot before the vomit comes? Yeah... though the phrase "mouth watering" is more commonly associated with wanting to eat so you're point is very valid. Also, I loved your tagline :) "In a world, where a repentant cannibal who hates the living, is cursed to bury the dead... forever." Dun, dun, dunnnn.

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15 minutes ago, karamel said:

How is ghosts of tsushima?

Dude, this game is the bomb and I love it. It is so much fun. Fantastic combat system that is stupidly fluid, even for someone with fat thumbs and the reflex time of a sloth. 

17 minutes ago, karamel said:

So yeah, this is just a clarity issue (like a lot of my problems)

Thankfully, clarity issues can be easily solved! Just a little tightening here, a little tightening there...

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12 hours ago, karamel said:

 

Imma just tell you now that there is no cannibalism... though now that you mention it —wait, no... no cannibalism.

So yeah, this is just a clarity issue (like a lot of my problems)... I interpreted the mouth watering part in two ways. Either he was so hungry that even the smell of a human burning made his mouth water (i heard it smells similar to pork) orrr you know when right before you throw up your mouth waters a lot and you spit a lot before the vomit comes? Yeah... though the phrase "mouth watering" is more commonly associated with wanting to eat so you're point is very valid. Also, I loved your tagline :) "In a world, where a repentant cannibal who hates the living, is cursed to bury the dead... forever." Dun, dun, dunnnn.

I'm going to chip in on this as I have some first hand experience as a nurse. 

I have experienced the "my body thinks this is food," response to the smell cauterizing skin and muscle before. It's disturbing and entirely involuntary. Even when your brain says, "no, gross, that's a person," there's a pavlovian response to cooking meat smells if your hungry enough. Given that you mention that he had been fasting, this struck me as very accurate. 

The after effect, if this is useful, was that I avoided several foods that triggered the same smell memory for over a year as the memory turned my stomach at the thought of eating anything that smelled like that. Specifically ham lunch meat (still can't eat) and corned beef were the worst. 

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15 hours ago, karamel said:

Okay, I can see where you're coming from. I certainly didn't intend it this way. I am conflicted cause like.. I dont know how to bring up that she is a woman without it sounding this way. I didn't mean it like "oh he finally closed the gap between them after he found out her gender because you know, woman are always harmless creatures." i just needed to speed it up a bit. but then like how does he even know she is a woman? She never said it. but like. she is. so. Idk how to handle it. (help please)

I don't think it's really an issue unless your society isn't patriarchal. If it doesn't have the same male-default as our current society, then yeah, probably should change that around. If she's all scratched and stuff then her clothes are a bit torn, right? So a figure outline could be seen (hips, breasts, etc.). You could just change it to they see the outline but don't change their caution level. That would solve the whole issue.

Edit: I'm of course, avoiding discussion of her actual gender. If this book will have nonbinary and such in it, it's a different can of worms. You could easily have them just ask, to normalize it. "Sorry...ma'am? I'm not sure how to refer to you, and I know that's important, even this late in life."

Edited by kais
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I’m definitely somewhat curious as to why these people are wandering about through what appears to be an apocalypse, but I think there needs to be a much stronger sense of urgency to really pull me through this chapter. By the second or third page I was already getting antsy to get some sense of stakes, whether that’s a sense of external danger or emotional stakes or whatever it was. The first few pages read as very reflective, which isn’t itself a bad thing, but as very detached, so I’m not as pulled into K’s world and situation as I would want.

My sense of detachment increased as I kept reading – K and N seem to be potentially afraid of this woman as they contemplate running from her, but again, the visceral sense of fear or danger isn’t really there.

I judged the characters a little bit for their first reaction to be think about running away rather than helping. That could be a pretty telling detail, but the way this woman is not presented as particularly threatening, and the fact that the characters have seemed pretty detached, makes them look like they are not the best people.

The fact that they agree to kill this woman definitely adds to that. They don’t put up much of a fight about it and the focus seems to be on the emotional wounds much more than the physical ones, so it’s hard to swallow the apparent line of reasoning that this is in any way necessary or laudable.

I’m wondering if the detached feel is a deliberate effect – it certainly feels like it could be a way of expressing trauma or loss or what-have-you. But if so, I think we need to feel that trauma or loss a little more deeply than we do to make it work. Right now I’m having trouble caring about the characters because the characters themselves don’t seem to care about anything.

Zombies! Okay, so now there is more conflict which is good, but I think the zombie story and encounter with M in general comes too late for an inciting incident. If this is the moment where things change, we need to get to it sooner.

Also… is this thing about zombies new information to K and N? I had the impression that yes, it is, but they don’t seem to be very startled by it. On the other hand, if this is NOT new information then they are awfully cavalier about all these dead bodies.

Overall: I think there is an interesting start to a story in here, for sure, but I need more emotion from the characters to buy into it and really even to understand the context in which they are wandering through an empty wasteland full of dead people. I think a little more information about what happened and why the world is the way it is would be very helpful too.

A couple writing things I’ve noticed:

  • the tense seems to shift frequently between past and present.
  • This chapter is a bit overwritten – there are some really great lines and clear images, but also a lot of adjectives. An example of one I actually stumbled on was “small sun faded houses” but it’s mostly that there’s a lot of them.  
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