C_Vallion

2.1.2021 - C_Vallion - Price of Peace: Chapter 1B and 2 - 4983 Words

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Hello, All!

Here are Chapter 1 (Part B, Revision 2) and Chapter 2 of my epic fantasy, Price of Peace. No content tags for these chapters.  If anyone is super excited to read the whole of Chapter 1 or wants to skim the first part without bothering with any sort of critique on it, let me know and I can send it over.

All input is still good input, especially since you guys seem to be far better at pointing out useful things than I am at knowing what to ask about. I have a feeling that the pacing for Chapters 1-6 or so needs some work, but I’m not good at calling out the specific things that aren’t working.

To repeat a question from last week, though, is there a better sense of who Is- is and what her goals are? Or does it still feel rather directionless? I think this version does better at it, but I still don’t have a good sense of how it comes across to the reader.

It’s still quite possible (quite likely, really) that this just isn’t the best starting point for Chapter 1, but I’ll continue from this point for now until you guys have read through a few more chapters.

Thanks so much for your help and patience in re-reading some of the same things a few times.  Hopefully I won’t need to do that often going forward (for all of our sakes).

Thanks for reading!

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Overall

Unfortately, I think this still suffers from most of the same issues (I has better direction, but far too late, and not enough of it). There's too much political chat and thought, not enough inciting incident, plot movement, and character buy-in. It's definitely better, and you're making progress, but at this stage I'd love to mark up the documents and just delete several pages in a row every time a character gets into their head to tell us about how the monarchy works.

I think to start, just settling on an inciting incident and running with it as a theme through chapter one would help. Then chapter two, focus on the tension around the gift of the jewelry and how it was almost a spellstone. There's good tension there. It isn't that this isn't an interesting story. I think it has some reasonable bones. But it's so covered in the exposition that I can't stay connected to anything.

Good movement though. It's better than before!

 

As I go

- pg 1: very long interior exposition that I don't want because I still want plot. I assume she still hung herself out the window for the falcon? Are we running with that imagery yet as motivation? 

- pg 2: I was excited thinking something would happen in the library, but it's still just exposition

- pg 3-4: briefly thought there would be magic hijinks with the pens. Then thought she might overwrite some of the documents. Disappointed that it was more world building. I think the important information here, that someone else is doing the writing, could be conveyed in maybe a paragraph, through perhaps an offhanded glance as she runs through the library, late for something, jazzed from seeing the falcon, etc. I think really what I'm missing more than anything is any sense of urgency of the plot. I keep coming back to the falcon because it felt like the inciting incident, but now I wonder if we haven't actually gotten to the inciting incident, and that is a touch concerning

- pg 7: so I'll agree that is generally more active than the last draft. The talking while decorating and such helps keep my interest longer. But it's still just too much world and politics without any investment in the lead character, any idea of her motivations, or what the greater arc of the book is. And it's looking less and less like the falcon was the inciting incident, which means our inciting incident is far too late in the story to serve as a hook for the reader

- end pg 8: So our MC has made a decision, which is good, and we have a portion of motivation. But it still falls flat to me, I think because again, no real inciting incident. It's just a day in the life, and I don't yet care about the world. I need something to get me going, to get me to care about this world and its politics and characters, and I don't have it yet

- POV jump not the best when I still don't care about the first character

- pg 10: I already like T more than our first MC. This plot is much more engaging

- pg 11: I feel let down again. I'd like them to discuss a hidden spell, or have our MC think about hidden spells, or how he knows how to hide spells, etc. I feel like we keep getting this potential awesome set ups, and then they just...fizzle. Reader promises not fulfilled

- pg 14: he's fallen prey to the meandering and plot thinking problem. No longer engaged

- pg 15: back to the spellstone, making me think everything in between could easily be cut. The tension is all with the spellstone

- not the most tension filled ending

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These are my thoughts on chapter 1 only (from the doc you sent). I’ll come back and post my thoughts on chap 2 once i read it :)

Page 1

-”long before she could remember being taught it.” this phrasing sounds odd. Its the “being taught it” part. i think it’s passive. The way you had it before may not have been perfect but it was better than how it is now, imo.

-”it was a majestic animal, if not a divine one” this is good, i like this.

Page 3

-I didn’t notice this before but I wonder if cringe is too modern of a word. I looked it up and the word did exist in the late 16th century, but i don’t know if the meaning was the same as what you are going for here. Idk though. Just pointing it out :)

-”then went nearly as pale” i thought something dramatic happened, like she saw a ghost or something

-”she wished she was better at these things” how does she know she needs to provide comfort? I assumed Orl saw something outside the window or was about to throw up based on how suddenly she went pale. Maybe it would make more sense if she was already pale and Is noticed something wrong. Orl didn’t go pale, she was pale since she walked in and clearly something was bothering her, but Is wished she was better at handling these things. That might make it more clear that she was already thinking about what Is’s mother said. Unless it was the mention of the falcon that made her go pale… then forget everything I said..

Page 4

-”rushed over to the breakfast tray, picking up a card” the card was in the tray? This is nitpicky, but did Isr not notice the card in the tray? I had trouble picturing this. My simple brain wants to picture Orl rummaging through her apron, or some pocket, for the card. Also, “rushed over, picking up the card” sounds like she is picking up the card at the same time that she is rushing over, imo. She rushed over to the tray then picked up the card and held it out. Unless you do something like “She rushed over to the tray (where Isr stood), rummaging through the pocket in her apron. She held out a card in.. etc..” cause she could rush over to the tray while rummaging for the card, but not pick it up before she gets to the tray. Wow, way to over analyze this, kara. 

-”exactly evenly” another nitpick (sorry). I didn’t like the too e—ly words next to each other. Something like “perfectly even” might work tho.

Page 5

-”orl’s reaction to the falcon” Ohhhhh so she did go pale at the falcon. Then i would maybe make it clear that orl took the falcon as a bad omen… if that's how it is. Well… i guess you do go on to explain it in this paragraph...so maybe it’s good as is.

-“Something she only remembered to do when she was flustered” wait so i may be remembering wrong but I thought in the previous sub, this line was referring to Is (which i realize now is dumb of me because why would she curtsy to a maid?) but now it seems almost like a pov error. I guess Is could know her maid well enough to know Orl does this. But as a maid, shouldn't she always curtsy when leaving one of the royal people? Idk.

Page 6

-I had trouble staying engaged on this page and the end of the last page. While some of it was interesting, oof my eyes glazed over. Maybe it's because I'm sitting in bed, I'm sure that doesn't help. I have no suggestions though. Sometimes information needs to be said and you can’t sugarcoat it. But i dont think it allll needs to be said in this case.

Page 7

-my attention came back when Isr went into the library

-also, originally Isr went to the library because that was where her mom was. But now she isn’t there. So i'm wondering if this scene can be cut. I'm looking back and I'm actually not sure why she even went to the library or what she accomplished there.

Page 8

-oof more history. Alright, but this time i'm a little more engaged. This is the event that banned magic basically, count me interested. However, when I first read this, I was confusing the king and queen that got killed and the duke and duchess that you had already mentioned on page 6. I think the explanation of this event is too close to the explanation of all the other stuff. my brain did not have time to comprehend all the other information before moving onto this information.

Page 9

“Her mother would have already had similar thoughts” what similar thoughts? I'm having trouble understanding what her plan was here.

Page 11

-why she cringe so much. Why Isr, why.

Overall:

I agree with @kais in that there was too much exposition. It might be more interesting if it were to come later. I don't need to understand a lot of this stuff to be engaged with the story right now. You can sprinkle in some of it later. I would definitely shorten chapter one and stick to the important stuff. 

I was not under the impression that the inciting incident was the falcon. I thought the inciting incident was the arrival of the duke? That's why the queen was um..doing the revision? Okay when I first read this I thought I understood but I took a little break from critiquing this and now I can't for the life of me recall what's going on. The duke is coming so the nobles want to change magic laws?(i got that from the previous version) And the queen is trying to revise a proposal for… something. A proposal to revise magic laws. And isr wants to help. Hm. but the queen had already been working on this revision with the duchess. Did you say why tho? I may have glazed over it. 

There is definitely a motivation for Is. she wants to help her mother and father. I just think this chapter needs some more clarification and less explanation. This is, after all, only the first chapter. You can explain stuff in chapter 2 or 3 or even 4 (or even 5) when I'm more connected with Is and I understand her more. 

I’ll be back with chapter 2 thoughts :)

Edited by karamel
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Yep, agree with @kais on this. It's getting better, but there's still so much exposition that nothing is actually happening. There are some hints of magic, but I'd much rather see a practical effect (in essence, showing and not telling about magic) to get the same effect across. Maybe A touches the sleepstone and falls asleep? I don't really know how the magic works, so I can't say.

14 hours ago, kais said:

- pg 11: I feel let down again. I'd like them to discuss a hidden spell, or have our MC think about hidden spells, or how he knows how to hide spells, etc. I feel like we keep getting this potential awesome set ups, and then they just...fizzle. Reader promises not fulfilled

I think this is my big hangup as well. We keep getting to parts where something exciting could happen and then...the characters have a long discussion about politics. I want more from the characters so I can follow along with how they will react to exciting circumstances.

 

Notes while reading:

Pg 1-4: Seems pretty similar to last time, except she doesn't talk to her mother. Not really a lot to draw me in.

Pg 4: Ah, the queen is now in the ballroom.

pg 6: Annnnnd....we're back to talking about policies and paperwork.

pg 8: So chapter 1 still seems to talk about the same subjects, which aren't that interesting, but now it's in a ballroom instead of a library. So I guess that's better in that there's more things to interact with, but it's still not engaging, especially for something that's supposed to hook you into a book.

Chapter 2

pg 10: "firestone or sleepstone"
--fire and sleep seem to be the only magic that's ever brought up. Does the magic do anything else?

pg 10: “Energy spell,” 
--okay, there's another one, but this is pretty generic. What's it supposed to do?

pg 11: "So, spellstone usage could be flaunted"
--I think the magic is pretty confusing so far as to who can use it and who can't. Might be good to show magic actually working first so the reader understands what it is, then we can get into the politics of who can use what and why.

pg 11: "had seen it, after the accident"
--had seen what?

pg 12: "Right.  That."
--what? Confused.
--edit, okay, I guess A mended it but then left the needle in the shirt for some reason? Not sure what this has to do with anything.

pg 16: So this chapter seems to mainly be "In Which The Young Duke Contemplates A Piece of Jewelry and Tries to Change Rooms." As in, there's still really nothing going on. We;re back to talking vaguely about politics and a few more pieces of how magic works, but not really enough to tell me anything. I don't have a good connection with A and more than I did with I. I'm looking for any hook to pull me into the story and I haven't found it yet.

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Thanks for your thoughts!  I'm glad that things are at least a little improved, but will admit that it's frustrating to see that some of the same problems are still there, and I just have no idea how to fix them.

15 hours ago, kais said:

I keep coming back to the falcon because it felt like the inciting incident, but now I wonder if we haven't actually gotten to the inciting incident, and that is a touch concerning

As a general question, do you usually expect the inciting incident to always be in the first few paragraphs? 
I know the benefits of getting it out there ASAP, but for this one to really make sense, it requires knowledge of two characters who we need to know separately without them really knowing each other. So, I'm having a lot of trouble figuring out how to move it closer to Page 1. I know it's too far in, but I don't know how to carry us through to it without creating a false inciting incident that miscommunicates where the whole story is going.

This is part of why I'd originally added the prologue. To give a sense of the stakes of the magic and politics and a little more action. But that seems to have both fallen flat and failed to convey information that it needed to. 

I know I'm horrible at beginning stories, but I hadn't expected to create so much disconnect about what things are important.  And I'm not sure how I'm unintentionally pointing at the wrong things and shouting "hey! Look over here! This is the important thing" with far too much information, when the actually important things are apparently not clear.

15 hours ago, kais said:

pg 11: I feel let down again. I'd like them to discuss a hidden spell, or have our MC think about hidden spells, or how he knows how to hide spells, etc. I feel like we keep getting this potential awesome set ups, and then they just...fizzle. Reader promises not fulfilled

I'm not entirely sure what you mean by discussing hidden spells. I assume you're referring to sp-stones, but they do discuss them.  It's just hard to have characters discuss a thing that is mostly significant because it isn't commonly used or well understood (I thought that aspect had been clear enough, but maybt not?).  I had initially called out that he had learned the basics of spell identification from his problematic mage father, but I thought there was enough context to imply it.  I'm not sure what makes it come across that they're "hidden" or what implications are coming across about the magic system at the moment. But I'm obviously missing something in my explanation.
 

11 hours ago, karamel said:

Unless it was the mention of the falcon that made her go pale… then forget everything I said..

It should be the mentioning of the falcon that both directs her attention to the window and makes her go pale.  But that seems to need clarifying.

11 hours ago, karamel said:

rushed over to the breakfast tray, picking up a card” the card was in the tray? This is nitpicky, but did Isr not notice the card in the tray?

Apron pocket makes far more sense.  In the previous version, Or- had taken the tray over, and picked the card up off of it, so in my brain the card was already there.  But it doesn't have any real reason to be. 

11 hours ago, karamel said:

also, originally Isr went to the library because that was where her mom was. But now she isn’t there. So i'm wondering if this scene can be cut. I'm looking back and I'm actually not sure why she even went to the library or what she accomplished there.

She was looking for the old copy of the proposal.  Prompted by her fears related to the duke arriving.  But the end of page 6 not being engaging would probably make it difficult to make that connection.  She sort of finds what she's looking for (though I'm guessing that's probably not called out.) She was just looking for the copy that her grandfather had practically mutilated, not the one that her mother had spent a lot of time on.   In an in-between version, she'd found one on the shelf then noticed the other already out on the desk. Which called it out more clearly. But that seemed like an unnecessary detour.  See, I can cut some things.  Just not enough of them.  Sigh.

1 hour ago, Mandamon said:

Yep, agree with @kais on this. It's getting better, but there's still so much exposition that nothing is actually happening. There are some hints of magic, but I'd much rather see a practical effect (in essence, showing and not telling about magic) to get the same effect across. Maybe A touches the sleepstone and falls asleep? I don't really know how the magic works, so I can't say.

This is one of the most important things the prologue was supposed to do.  From there, we're supposed to get basic spellstone mechanics from Is- using the lightstones in the library, and the impression from Al's scene that other than our firestones (heat and light) and sleepstones, spellstones, while legal, aren't generally used in polite society these days. 
At the start of the story, 99% of magic is illegal (the specifics are called out on page 2.  Fire spell and sleep spell are legal on their own.  Everything else needs to be used in spellstone form to fit within the restrictions. Because they're "safe" that way.), which makes it hard to show much of the practical effects (other than describing their use of firestones for light and in pens-think pyrography).

Unfortunately, this is also one of the things that is probably causing a lot of my problems. Because magical hijinks aren't really an optional inciting incident (this is why I tried to shove some into the prologue).  Hardly anyone knows anything about it, because mages and magical accidents are basically the monsters they scare their children into good behavior with. 

1 hour ago, Mandamon said:

I think the magic is pretty confusing so far as to who can use it and who can't. Might be good to show magic actually working first so the reader understands what it is, then we can get into the politics of who can use what and why.

This is exactly what I tried to do with the prologue, but my attempt to do so seems to have fallen flat. 

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2 hours ago, C_Vallion said:

and I just have no idea how to fix them.

We can help! In fact @Snakenaps was in this situation about a year ago, and can probably speak to the thought process that finally got her making solid traction, especially in terms of hook and character interacting with plot, not just riding it.

2 hours ago, C_Vallion said:

As a general question, do you usually expect the inciting incident to always be in the first few paragraphs? 

I expect either the inciting incident or a substantial hook within the first 2-3 pages. It's how spec fit writing has gone recently, so it's very much reader expectation. Especially if you're looking to sell to a publisher someday or get the attention of an agent. Going with the model of 'in late, out early', you want your first chapter to be right when that first event that starts the story happens. The inciting incident for your book. I'd say the one exception to this is in romance. There's still an inciting incident in romance, but it is often in terms of the hook for the romance, so say, the two characters meeting. Right now I'd argue you have romance pacing, but are trying to build a spec fic arc. If we went through backstory and politics and such and then your MC went to a ball and saw the Duke fixing her binder and SHOCK GASP the Duke is a lady and our MC secretly likes ladies, then I'd be okay with a lot more of the meandering. Romance readers are used to waiting through the first chapter to get their buy-in hook. Spec fic readers, especially sci fi and fantasy, are not. I like both genres, but if you don't start with magic or an explosion or dragons, there'd better be some brewing romance I can get behind and start cheering for right off the bat.

2 hours ago, C_Vallion said:

I know the benefits of getting it out there ASAP, but for this one to really make sense, it requires knowledge of two characters who we need to know separately without them really knowing each other. So, I'm having a lot of trouble figuring out how to move it closer to Page 1. I know it's too far in, but I don't know how to carry us through to it without creating a false inciting incident that miscommunicates where the whole story is going.

I think it's okay though, to have red herrings. Give us the incident. Let the reader make assumptions. Then crush our assumptions. 

2 hours ago, C_Vallion said:

I'm not entirely sure what you mean by discussing hidden spells. I assume you're referring to sp-stones, but they do discuss them.  It's just hard to have characters discuss a thing that is mostly significant because it isn't commonly used or well understood (I thought that aspect had been clear enough, but maybt not?).  I had initially called out that he had learned the basics of spell identification from his problematic mage father, but I thought there was enough context to imply it.  I'm not sure what makes it come across that they're "hidden" or what implications are coming across about the magic system at the moment. But I'm obviously missing something in my explanation.

That was me trying to add in plot because I couldn't find any. With such a....just 'here is politics' page after page, I'm desperate for the hook. So then we get these stones and so my brain goes oh good! The plot! I bet they do XYZ! And because our MC finds them and I expect the MC to drive the plot, I expected her to have more knowledge, or stumble onto the knowledge. 

2 hours ago, C_Vallion said:

This is one of the most important things the prologue was supposed to do.  From there, we're supposed to get basic spellstone mechanics from Is- using the lightstones in the library, and the impression from Al's scene that other than our firestones (heat and light) and sleepstones, spellstones, while legal, aren't generally used in polite society these days. 

What we're all trying to say though, is that we don't need that information yet. We need a hook. We need an inciting incident. We need to care about the MC. Magic systems can be built later, especially via use. You can throw us into a magic system and if we care about the MC, it can be confusing at first. We will give a lot more space for a weird magic system and unfamiliar politics if we care about the people in the world.

 

This is a really common place to get stuck. We see it a lot with new subbers, so it isn't just you by any means. It takes time to differentiate between revising and editing, wherein revising really means tearing apart a chapter and functionally rebuilding it, often crafting new bones. Editing removes some scenes or some paragraphs. In the end it is your book. If you're writing it for you, then it's about what makes you happy. If you're writing it for others or for publication, revising is inevitable.

It's worthwhile too to have a conversation about tropes. When writing spec fic, there are given, understood tropes, that differ depending on region. Herein, you are writing Euro-centric fantasy, very sword and sorcery. Tropes help us save time when writing because if you drop a reader into a known world, they don't question tropes. Tropes help ground a reader. The thing with tropey work is, its inherently cliche. So, you must choose to either lean into the trope, or subvert the trope. To merely exist in it is to bore the reader. We have read a million (possible exaggeration) Euro-centric fantasy books with magic and politics and swords. The tropes are old and tired. You, as the writer, need to then either rejoice in the tropes, embrace them, encourage them, embellish them (lean in) or defy reader expectations by getting us comfortable and then pulling the rug out (subverting). I think this is the crux of the writing issue right now. Your MC exists within a tropey land that has neither leaned into tropes, nor tried to subvert them. The reader has no foothold. Nothing to hold on to. Without a hook for the MC, without tropes to hold, the reader is adrift. A drifting reader is a bored reader, who does not buy your book at the local bookshop.

I think if you can make that decision - subversion or lean in - and then from there move the inciting incident up, you will have a powerful and dynamic start. 

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25 minutes ago, kais said:

In fact @Snakenaps was in this situation about a year ago, and can probably speak to the thought process that finally got her making solid traction, especially in terms of hook and character interacting with plot, not just riding it.

Spoiler

Wake Up Dracula GIF - WakeUp Dracula Hangover - Discover & Share GIFs

I have been called. I rise from my slumber.

Two things jarred me out of slapping duck tape onto everything and actually fixing things:

1) Repeated poking. There are only so many times you can hear @kais go "This has no arc" before you start going crazy and yell "Okay, okay, I'll fix it." Like your parents nagging you about doing the dishes. Eventually, it's easier just fix everything rather than continually get the same feedback. The trick is to be willing to listen to feedback and not just bite the hand that's trying to help. Luckily for you, you don't have that issue. Thanks for being a nice, kind member.

2) Learning the term "killing your darlings" and hearing stories on Writing Excuses about how they loved this scene but realized it totally didn't work and had to go. There's something to be said for realizing that you aren't the only one with this problem.

In a way, I'm lucky. I'm very good at killing my darlings. I've been doing it to this particular story for years (if you're ever curious on how much NotK has evolved, poke me). So once I got into that mindset, it was easier to find the boo-boo's. That, and lots of practice critiquing has helped me view things a little less personally and more objectively.

Now, here's the bad news. Sometimes, no matter how much you like something, how much you are convinced it is worthwhile...sometimes you just have to toss it all in the trash and try again. Perfect example: the last 3-4 chapters of my work was an absolute train wreck. So what have I done? Thrown out the last two and am rewriting the other two. I try things from new angles. I'm focusing on what needs to be accomplished in a chapter, creating an arc only about that, and chucking everything else out. 

Keep in mind I haven't read this newest submission, as I'm trying to take a break (be back after March 1st). But here's a thought-provoking exercise I have used many times: if you could rewrite the beginning (and that may include the prologue, come at it from a different angle for fun) without keeping any of what you have now...what would it look like? If I told you that you couldn't have Ch 1 be about Is talking to people...what would you do? What would she do? What happens if you start the story earlier...or later? Change the setting. Change the time of day. What happens?

Personal example, because I can actually show you the different versions if you want:

Drafts 1-4 start the story with the chef Ir in the kitchen, but in Drafts 1-2, different problems arise than in 3-4 (and 4 is changing from 3, so there).

The second half of Chapter One continues differently. Drafts 1-2 introduce you to the entire family (all eight family members not including Ir) and the political situation in one go during a warm dinner. Drafts 3-4 cut out everyone but Ir, the parents, and Sue and introduce the politics near midnight outside with one singular light source.

Sometimes, in the case of the first half with the kitchen, you just need to add a different form of actual tension (the "tension" in the first two drafts can be summarized as "the delivery boys are here, go learn their names." Drafts 3-4 have changed this to "shoot, the tuna didn't come in because of the political upheaval at the docks. Now what are we going to do to keep this restaurant afloat?"). Other times, like in the second half of the chapter, you need to realize you're undermining what you need to say with information you can add in later (like Ir's entire family) to hyperfocus on one specific piece (Sue is joining the Revolutionaries). 

Does that make sense?

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As always I am behind everyone else. Without further ado...

As I go:

pg 1-2

-okay this is a lot of exposition. I think that's all right but it will read better if it's connected to Is' plans or motivations. Right now I still don't know what her deal is. What's her personal relationship to magic? If she's going to focus on it so heavily, she needs one. Could be as simple as she saw it help someone she cares about so now she doesn't hate it. 

pg 3

-Glad to see her interacting with magic more. What does this mean for her? Is the lightstone something that most people don't use because magic is icky?

pg 5

-Good to see some characterization of R and how it's connected to the other chars. I get a better feel for him now. 

pg 6

-second half the page is once again a lot of exposition. I got a short attention span and I'm not sure why this is relevant to our characters so it's hard for me to focus

pg 7

-I need to see more specifics of why Is cares about it so much. Is it because of the magic itself? Because her family is under threat if a deal falls through? Something else?

-From what I've seen of Is there's no way the court takes her seriously, right? Her mom has to shoot her down here. 

pg 8

-Hmm why does the queen think this is worth trying? I thought Is has no real power and that was why she was snooping around and looking for info. 

-Or is the queen recruiting her help with something else? Is she doing research/drafting up a proposal or is she going to be presenting it to the court? The former seems to fit more than the latter. 

pg 9-10

-I like how A is clearly out of his element here, but I think this could go a little faster. All we really need to know is that he chose the stone himself and have T show him it's a spellstone, which we know is going to be a tactless gift. 

pg 11-12

-I'm conflicted. I like the dynamics here but I don't get the feeling anything is really happening. I think these pages could do a bit more.

pg 13-14

-political maneuvering is good. I think this part could also be shortened a bit

-Bottom of page 14 is really good and sets up a strong motivation for A. He's here to improve diplomatic relations so trade can prosper and his dukedom doesn't do bankrupt. Now I want to see what his plans are to achieve this. 

pg 15-16

-I'm generally engaged here but I do want to hear more about his plan for the ball. Just chatting up random people doesn't seem like the best strategy.

Overall: 

This is kinda an echo of what other people are saying, but there are four things I'd like to see from our two protags at this point: personal history, motivation, reason for the motivation from that personal history, and plan for how to execute the motivation. For Is we really just have the motivation which is to help her dad with this magic legislation business. I don't know what she's done in the past and why that makes her want to take on this job. I can piece together little bits, like the fact that she's a scholar type. But why this act of scholarship specifically? I get why it's important to the kingdom, but I don't know why it's important to her. And finally, what's her idea for how to deal with her new assignment? We don't need all of the details now, but she needs to direct herself somewhere. I need to feel like she's good at this to get a buy-in.

A is better off on these counts due to the prologue and I think that's why I like his chapter better. For him, we have a personal history (young lord whose parents died), motivation (establish trade routes), reason why the motivation is so important (his dukedom is struggling after his parents died), and all we need is the plan. Surely he must have some idea who to talk with (at the ball or otherwise) about establishing better relations, right? And surely he knows at least a bit about the most important people and what might make them accept him. His plans don't have to work but he should have them. 

Good luck chugging along! I know I'll be right there with you when I have to do this myself. 

 

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4 minutes ago, Ace of Hearts said:

I think that's all right but it will read better if it's connected to Is' plans or motivations. Right now I still don't know what her deal is.

So seeing that you and a couple of other people have mentioned this, there was probably something lost by not including the extra paragraph or two after Or- tells her that the duke has come to the capital... as is my usual method of doing things in drafts before people have looked at it, there's still too much extra information, but it at least ties it a little more directly to her concerns (mostly the trouble it's going to cause her family.  Both the political strife among the nobles and general unease among a whole bunch of her sister's party guests).  It's still not as strong as it needs to be, but it's better than the nothing provided otherwise.
  Those paragraphs in the spoiler cut thing if interested.

Spoiler

She wasn’t sure if anyone at court had seen the duke in more than a decade.  Anyone other than fussy old Lord Ras who represented him in the capital, anyway.  The young duke had never been to Gil-ay, and Tra- wasn’t a place people went visiting.  The harsh isolation of the northern mountains was just as unappealing to guests as the duchy’s complicated political circumstances.  Those had been bad enough when the old duchess had married a foreign mage.  But when that mage got himself, the duchess, and their unborn child killed when a spell went awry, it was no wonder people wanted nothing to do with the place.

Is- shuddered and tightened her grip on her mug.  She didn’t blame the duke for hiding away in Tra- since his parents’ deaths.  His presence in the capital was going to stir up a lot of old conflict. And that would mean a lot of extra trouble for her father.  She shut her eyes and pressed her forehead to the lip of her mug.  Couldn’t he have waited until after Ali-’s birthday?

He hadn’t though, whatever his reasons.  And there wasn’t anything Is- could do to prevent the nobles from starting up their old battles. 

Letting out a breath, she set her mug down and picked up the warm bread on her plate, topped with a sharp cheese and sweet onion jam. She rushed through eating, then called Or- in to help her dress.  Overseeing ballroom decorations wasn’t going to help with the problem of a troublesome duke, but neither would neglecting her responsibilities to worry about politics.  Besides, her mother would be there.  And she’d have more information.

21 minutes ago, Ace of Hearts said:

What's her personal relationship to magic? If she's going to focus on it so heavily, she needs one. Could be as simple as she saw it help someone she cares about so now she doesn't hate it

Academic fascination, mostly, at this point.  Torn between being a good, obedient daughter/citizen and supporting the laws of the land vs. practical efficiency and knowing that there are reasons most other kingdoms cherish their magical traditions instead of outlawing them.  

13 minutes ago, Ace of Hearts said:

Or is the queen recruiting her help with something else? Is she doing research/drafting up a proposal or is she going to be presenting it to the court? The former seems to fit more than the latter. 

Oh, definitely research/drafting.  Before she'd realized her Mom had similar plans in mind, it would have been with the intention of passing the information she'd come up with along to her father to put to use, 

18 minutes ago, Ace of Hearts said:

Surely he must have some idea who to talk with (at the ball or otherwise) about establishing better relations, right? And surely he knows at least a bit about the most important people and what might make them accept him. His plans don't have to work but he should have them. 

See, I had some of this in here, and then cut it out because I assumed it was going to get torn apart as unnecessary political information.  Because I don't know how to describe one without the other, or how much political information is too much political information.

28 minutes ago, Ace of Hearts said:

Good luck chugging along! I know I'll be right there with you when I have to do this myself. 

Thanks! :)

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1 hour ago, Snakenaps said:

Eventually, it's easier just fix everything rather than continually get the same feedback.

But I'm trryyyyyying (where's the dramatic crying emoji when you need it?)

1 hour ago, Snakenaps said:

If I told you that you couldn't have Ch 1 be about Is talking to people...what would you do? What would she do? What happens if you start the story earlier...or later? Change the setting. Change the time of day. What happens?

See, this is part of the problem.  Because of the way the timeline is, I honestly have no idea. If we move forward, we are in the middle of the ball with no idea who anyone is (which is bad enough. There are already too many people at the ball). If we skip the ball entirely? honestly we're probably at the best starting point time-wise, except that it feels like it doesn't make any sense to start there. And we don't have time to introduce the second MC who needs to be around for the inciting incident.  If we move backward? We are even farther from the inciting incident with nothing of note happening in between.  I sort of think that the whole thing needs to be shifted to a different timeline altogether.  It would mean rewriting like 5 chapters, not 1, which I'm willing to do (But man, will I whine about it), but I would need a more solid starting point than "Uh...something different"  which I currently don't have.  

1 hour ago, Snakenaps said:

Does that make sense?

It does. I entirely get what you're saying.  This has already been through a number of very differently angled drafts. Unfortunately, far too many of those have had like 3 readers, who were aware of where things were going and apparently shrugged over the problems.  It doesn't help that Is-'s character (Practical introvert.  Hates conflict.  Hates being the one to cause that conflict even more. Defensive of her family) is a hard MC to introduce in a grand, exciting way.  I'm sure there is a way to do it.  But I haven't figured it out yet. 

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11 minutes ago, C_Vallion said:

But I'm trryyyyyying (where's the dramatic crying emoji when you need it?)

Hell yeah you are trying. If you weren't trying, I wouldn't have emerged from my hole to talk with you. I don't like to waste time on people who have their ears stuffed and their face in a frown. 

13 minutes ago, C_Vallion said:

  It would mean rewriting like 5 chapters, not 1, which I'm willing to do (But man, will I whine about it), but I would need a more solid starting point than "Uh...something different"  which I currently don't have.  

First of all...I've done my fair share of whining, of "This isn't fair", of "Jesus Christ why do I do this to myself" and plenty of faceplants into my bed. 

So I won't judge. 

I worry that this points to a foundational problem in your story that is causing major cracks. God knows I've hit enough of them myself. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to read enough to be able to tell what that might is, nor do I have the time to alpha read for you. Hopefully you'll get some good feedback, though, that points to what the thorn in your side might be. 

17 minutes ago, C_Vallion said:

Practical introvert.  Hates conflict.  Hates being the one to cause that conflict even more. Defensive of her family

Oh, you're writing me as a protagonist. How kind!

I haven't gotten to know Is very well, but I would find it very interesting to see where she lands on the three pronged character slider (https://writingexcuses.com/2014/03/30/writing-excuses-9-13-three-prong-character-development/). Right now, having read a previous version of chapter one, she didn't seem particularly proactive to me, and that might be undermining you if the other two bars aren't strong enough to hold her up. Again, my viewpoint is limited, so I may be completely wrong. It's hard to judge a character off of one chapter. I'm sorry I don't have the time to give you my full effort right now, since you are obviously willing to try and find a solution. 

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41 minutes ago, C_Vallion said:
1 hour ago, Ace of Hearts said:

What's her personal relationship to magic? If she's going to focus on it so heavily, she needs one. Could be as simple as she saw it help someone she cares about so now she doesn't hate it

Academic fascination, mostly, at this point.  Torn between being a good, obedient daughter/citizen and supporting the laws of the land vs. practical efficiency and knowing that there are reasons most other kingdoms cherish their magical traditions instead of outlawing them. 

Okay this helps to know. A few things here. First is that academic motivations can be a hard sell sometimes because... I say this with in the most affectionate possible since I am a grad student, but academics and academic stuff tends to be really boring. Second is that we still need a bit more personal info for this to stick. She's interested in academic stuff, but why is she interested in this academic thing? It's tempting to say because it's something with a large effect on her people, in which case her motivations are a bit different than pure academic knowledge. If her goals are truly academic here then I want to know why she gravitated towards magic in the academic sense. Is it the big hot issue that scholars are trying to figure out? Is it one that she feels like her skills are best used for, like the equivalent of a high school math star doing engineering research? Third, if it's going to be academic, it needs to be academic. What scholars have researched this in the past, and which ones are researching it now? Where does the funding for magic scholarship come from, and how does that affect the findings? What methods are people using to characterize magic and its effects? Are those methods good ones in Is' view?

If that all sounds like too much, then maybe academics are the tool here and the motivation is wanting to help her kingdom run smoothly. Which is fine, and in that case you should delve into why she cares so much about her kingdom and not focus as much on the specifics of the academics. Which would probably be easier. 

50 minutes ago, C_Vallion said:

See, I had some of this in here, and then cut it out because I assumed it was going to get torn apart as unnecessary political information.  Because I don't know how to describe one without the other, or how much political information is too much political information.

It's less about how much (though that does matter) and more about whether that political information helps advance the story. If the A's plot is to make trade deals than yeah we'll need to know the politics of the trade deals and the people involved so that's fine. It's when Is' plot is about researching magic and the politics are about some foreign army we don't know anything about that it starts to feel like too much.

Also even if the politics are focused, the buy-in to exposition depends on how it's presented. If the characters talk about the politics in a way that's personal to them, it's more likely to be entertaining than them listing the facts. "X did Y at Z time" is less interesting than "Thank goodness X did Y at Z time and save me the trouble" or "How dare X do Y at Z time and put me in this mess." It's trickier for historical politics and for A's situation since he doesn't know any of these people, so those can be kept brief. In that case my suggestion is to write out catchy blurbs for the important stuff. The reason I took interest in the mage rebellion is that "mage rebellion that threw the kingdom into chaos" is inherently interesting and we don't need to know much more than that for it to have an impact. 

And yeah that experience you're going through is pretty common. I had a creative writing prof who said that revision almost always makes stories worse initially since it's much easier to identify problems than fix them, but that over the course of a long time it will get there. The fiddling around is a necessary step even if progress seems slow for now. :) 

22 minutes ago, Snakenaps said:
45 minutes ago, C_Vallion said:

Practical introvert.  Hates conflict.  Hates being the one to cause that conflict even more. Defensive of her family

Oh, you're writing me as a protagonist. How kind!

Okay @Snakenaps I actually laughed out loud at this. I can definitely see those traits in your protagonist Ir as well. ;) 

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21 minutes ago, Snakenaps said:

Oh, you're writing me as a protagonist. How kind!

:lol:

21 minutes ago, Snakenaps said:

I haven't gotten to know Is very well, but I would find it very interesting to see where she lands on the three pronged character slider (https://writingexcuses.com/2014/03/30/writing-excuses-9-13-three-prong-character-development/). Right now, having read a previous version of chapter one, she didn't seem particularly proactive to me, and that might be undermining you if the other two bars aren't strong enough to hold her up. Again, my viewpoint is limited, so I may be completely wrong. It's hard to judge a character off of one chapter. I'm sorry I don't have the time to give you my full effort right now, since you are obviously willing to try and find a solution. 

Proactivity is definitely low when there's no obvious job to be done (which, at the moment is where chapter 1 starts).  But efficient practicality also mean wanting to make sure that things are done right and properly, and she'll just do them all herself if no one else is going to.  So we start at a horrible place for her and a horrible place for the plot to be interesting.  Just all around, not helpful. 

No problem on not having time right now, though I appreciate you checking back in with your thoughts.  I will still be here once you're back, and probably still fighting the inevitable edits.  This should at least be better by that point, so there's that. :) 

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3 hours ago, kais said:

If we went through backstory and politics and such and then your MC went to a ball and saw the Duke fixing her binder and SHOCK GASP the Duke is a lady and our MC secretly likes ladies, then I'd be okay with a lot more of the meandering.

Um, hi. Yes. Where can I read this story??

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35 minutes ago, Ace of Hearts said:

Okay @Snakenaps I actually laughed out loud at this. I can definitely see those traits in your protagonist Ir as well. ;) 

Ugh, and the plot as well. I avoided writing conflict out the wazoo and am paying for it now. 

35 minutes ago, C_Vallion said:

I will still be here once you're back, and probably still fighting the inevitable edits.  This should at least be better by that point, so there's that. :) 

Hopefully both of our writing will be much better when I return!

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2 hours ago, C_Vallion said:

(where's the dramatic crying emoji when you need it?)

I don't have a ton to add to this conversation that the others haven't said, other than I totally think you can do this. The story has a lot of promise so far, and your writing style is very clear. If this weren't the beginning of the story, and were instead somewhere in the middle, I think this chapter would be a lot more effective. It's just that beginnings are super important, in line with the whole "first impressions" way of thinking. 

Also: 

(T^T)

Edited by ginger_reckoning
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1 hour ago, Ace of Hearts said:

Okay this helps to know. A few things here. First is that academic motivations can be a hard sell sometimes because... I say this with in the most affectionate possible since I am a grad student, but academics and academic stuff tends to be really boring. Second is that we still need a bit more personal info for this to stick. She's interested in academic stuff, but why is she interested in this academic thing? It's tempting to say because it's something with a large effect on her people, in which case her motivations are a bit different than pure academic knowledge. If her goals are truly academic here then I want to know why she gravitated towards magic in the academic sense. Is it the big hot issue that scholars are trying to figure out? Is it one that she feels like her skills are best used for, like the equivalent of a high school math star doing engineering research? Third, if it's going to be academic, it needs to be academic. What scholars have researched this in the past, and which ones are researching it now? Where does the funding for magic scholarship come from, and how does that affect the findings? What methods are people using to characterize magic and its effects? Are those methods good ones in Is' view?

I apologize for my flippant use of the word "academic" 
"Academic" interests in magic don't really make sense in Gil- since it's been mostly outlawed for 150 years, and generally taboo to have any involvement with for probably 50-60 years. I forget when her grandfather's reign started. Most of the books available referencing magic of any sort would be history or law-related, and many paint it intentionally in a bad light (The victors have definitely written the histories here. It creates...problems).  Her education involved an in-depth understanding of the subtleties of what the magic laws do and don't cover.  The teacher she had for that has far more knowledge of magic as a whole than most people in Gil-, so she got a more well-rounded picture of its capabilities than most people in the kingdom would, and is mostly fascinated/puzzled/bothered by the conflict between the obvious benefits to some sorts of magic and the fact that nothing about the laws have changed in 150 years.  She learned enough there to see that something was off, but not enough to know what it actually is, and she doesn't like not knowing things.

Her mother is a respected historian, and she sort of puts together what she's learned from her parents' specialties of politics and history with her own fascination with magic and the magic laws. The last part being what she's especially interested in because she feels like she isn't getting the full story.  Because simply by living in Gil- she's not. 

But stick around. Because the times, they are a-changin'  And the actual academic nature of magic becomes more relevant. As do the questions you mentioned.  Fortunately, they mostly have answers already (woo. Go, me!).  Is it done in an interesting or understandable way? Well, we'll see, I guess.

What this means for Is-'s character? Definitely that I need to tie her existing interest into the opening more.  In many ways, that interest and the opening referring to the gods represent similar things in my head (her current, rather limited view of the world, even as a capable, intelligent person), so I hadn't seen a reason to put it there.  And (unfortunately) I do think I know a way to do that, but it switches up the order I wanted to introduce a few Big Things in.  Because I wanted to be clever.  But being clever is probably not as helpful as having people actually understand and enjoy the story.  Who knew? 

Thank you for providing a jumping off point for my aimless thoughts.  It's been quite helpful :) 

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29 minutes ago, C_Vallion said:

I apologize for my flippant use of the word "academic" 
"Academic" interests in magic don't really make sense in Gil- since it's been mostly outlawed for 150 years, and generally taboo to have any involvement with for probably 50-60 years. I forget when her grandfather's reign started. Most of the books available referencing magic of any sort would be history or law-related, and many paint it intentionally in a bad light (The victors have definitely written the histories here. It creates...problems).  Her education involved an in-depth understanding of the subtleties of what the magic laws do and don't cover.  The teacher she had for that has far more knowledge of magic as a whole than most people in Gil-, so she got a more well-rounded picture of its capabilities than most people in the kingdom would, and is mostly fascinated/puzzled/bothered by the conflict between the obvious benefits to some sorts of magic and the fact that nothing about the laws have changed in 150 years.  She learned enough there to see that something was off, but not enough to know what it actually is, and she doesn't like not knowing things.

Her mother is a respected historian, and she sort of puts together what she's learned from her parents' specialties of politics and history with her own fascination with magic and the magic laws. The last part being what she's especially interested in because she feels like she isn't getting the full story.  Because simply by living in Gil- she's not. 

Cool, so I see two potential points to spring off here that I've noticed from the text/your comments. You could try to do either, both, or something else since I'm sure there are other ways to play this. 

1. Desire to obtain "forbidden" knowledge. This is a good motivation especially if she's more adventurous and is constantly being prevented from doing anything cool (realistic for a princess!). Is the idea that she's engaging with knowledge that other people are too scared to or unable to touch exciting for her? In this case it's not full dark arts sorta thing so she doesn't have to be super edgy about it but the easiest way I see this working is if her research acts as a natural outlet for her curiosity. In this case, she views knowledge as something to be chased after and this unknown aspect of knowledge is the greatest prize of all. If this is the direction the story wants Is' character to go, I think it's important for the story to face on her frustration of her feeling like she's being held back from using her curiosity or doing anything that actually matters in general. I think the story has good seeds for this and based on your description it seems like that's kinda what you have in mind. I think it could be played up for clarity. Establishing that Is is curious about everything (maybe showing this through the bird), is frustrated when she doesn't have the answers, and is held back from playing a more active political role gives her a really strong motivation to research something more uncommon/taboo like magic. If I'm interpreting your comments correctly I think the #1 thing the first chapter can do is make sure we understand how curious Is is. 

2. Desire to help people. This is a bit more straightforward. From your comments it seems like part of her motivation is the fact that she's not convinced the laws work well for her people. This one has a bit more leeway since I think readers are less demanding of reasons that the protag is compassionate, but it doesn't hurt to have specific points to reference here. I think her mom could potentially be a point person for this... though a better suggestion might be to facilitate this through O. If you show that Is tries really hard to help O through actions rather than just inquiry into matters (O can still be gruff about this, that's fine), it will feel more natural when she tries really hard to draft this document up in a way that she feels like is better for her people. And then there does need to be some justification for why she feels this way... well, if you go down this route I can leave that to you. :) This could actually be really good to combine with something like point 1 since pure academic interest can come across as a bit emotionally cold. 

This is all highly prescriptive and just an example, really. The important part is that she has a clear motivation that is shown through her actions and connects to an aspect of her personality. These were just the clearest points that stuck out to me that I think could be expanded upon. 

52 minutes ago, C_Vallion said:

"Academic" interests in magic don't really make sense in Gil- since it's been mostly outlawed for 150 years, and generally taboo to have any involvement with for probably 50-60 years.

So do the people in Gil- really have no idea what magic can do? I'd think there would be quite a decent amount of inquisition-type records that Is could reference and that it would be important for scholars to find out more about it so that they can properly deal with (even if those scholars are seen as creepy, kinda like morticians or whatever). 

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9 hours ago, Ace of Hearts said:

So do the people in Gil- really have no idea what magic can do? I'd think there would be quite a decent amount of inquisition-type records that Is could reference and that it would be important for scholars to find out more about it so that they can properly deal with (even if those scholars are seen as creepy, kinda like morticians or whatever). 

There's a familiarity with what spellstones can do, but they remove all of the subtlety and precision of a cast spell.   They treat spellstones as a tool, but have very little understanding of how they actually work or what active magic is capable of.  Healers in most areas have access to spellstones (whether they are provided by the lord who oversees where they work or purchased out of what they charge patients probably depends on the location), so they have a sense of what they think magic can do, but they don't know how much of the information they're missing by never having seen a mage intentionally slow a wound-closing spell to reduce scar tissue around a wound. Or things like that. Some healers would know how to cast sleep or fire spells, but the nature of them doesn't leave much subtlety to be added (one of the reasons they're the legal ones.  They don't go wrong as easily when someone tries to do something clever and it goes wrong).  In general, the only other people who bother to learn them at all are the magistrates, because they're required in the judicial/religious rituals. And they would definitely carry a similar weird/creepy reputation to morticians.  In general, they're not people you want to need.   
There are some records dealing with the judicial punishments of performing spells, but when Gil- mages had mostly focused on healing, and any underground magic system would follow those lines, it's not going to be as likely to get reported unless something is used maliciously or if something goes wrong. The magistrates do have a slightly better understanding of things, but it's still not very complete. 

For an inexact comparison (trying to think of something that it would make sense to restrict legally to create the same scenario, since I think that would sharpen the contrasts further. I'm sure it's out there, but I can't think of it right now) : In an age where we are on the edge of self-driving cars, I sort of imagine it as being similar to where we'll be a few generations after self-driving cars are made the norm.  There's a tool that solves the problem of getting from A to B that the powers that be have told us is the safe and seems to get the job done.  Add in a few horror stories about stubborn old-fashioned people driving themselves places and causing horrible accidents that get a lot of people killed, and it becomes a simple choice for the vast majority of people.  There will still be groups of people who think it's important to know how the cars actually work, but that information is going to be more difficult to access, especially if it's going to be discouraged by the powers that be (even if not made illegal outright). There will still be places where the "lost knowledge" would be incredibly helpful to people based on where they live and their daily habits or whatever.  But the longer time goes on, the more that specialized knowledge is going to be either lost or relegated to specific jobs that are looked at funny by the rest of society.

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2 hours ago, C_Vallion said:

There's a familiarity with what spellstones can do, but they remove all of the subtlety and precision of a cast spell.   They treat spellstones as a tool, but have very little understanding of how they actually work or what active magic is capable of.  Healers in most areas have access to spellstones (whether they are provided by the lord who oversees where they work or purchased out of what they charge patients probably depends on the location), so they have a sense of what they think magic can do, but they don't know how much of the information they're missing by never having seen a mage intentionally slow a wound-closing spell to reduce scar tissue around a wound. Or things like that. Some healers would know how to cast sleep or fire spells, but the nature of them doesn't leave much subtlety to be added (one of the reasons they're the legal ones.  They don't go wrong as easily when someone tries to do something clever and it goes wrong).  In general, the only other people who bother to learn them at all are the magistrates, because they're required in the judicial/religious rituals. And they would definitely carry a similar weird/creepy reputation to morticians.  In general, they're not people you want to need.   
There are some records dealing with the judicial punishments of performing spells, but when Gil- mages had mostly focused on healing, and any underground magic system would follow those lines, it's not going to be as likely to get reported unless something is used maliciously or if something goes wrong. The magistrates do have a slightly better understanding of things, but it's still not very complete. 

For an inexact comparison (trying to think of something that it would make sense to restrict legally to create the same scenario, since I think that would sharpen the contrasts further. I'm sure it's out there, but I can't think of it right now) : In an age where we are on the edge of self-driving cars, I sort of imagine it as being similar to where we'll be a few generations after self-driving cars are made the norm.  There's a tool that solves the problem of getting from A to B that the powers that be have told us is the safe and seems to get the job done.  Add in a few horror stories about stubborn old-fashioned people driving themselves places and causing horrible accidents that get a lot of people killed, and it becomes a simple choice for the vast majority of people.  There will still be groups of people who think it's important to know how the cars actually work, but that information is going to be more difficult to access, especially if it's going to be discouraged by the powers that be (even if not made illegal outright). There will still be places where the "lost knowledge" would be incredibly helpful to people based on where they live and their daily habits or whatever.  But the longer time goes on, the more that specialized knowledge is going to be either lost or relegated to specific jobs that are looked at funny by the rest of society.

This makes sense to me if it's something similar to recreational drug use that doesn't usually hurt anyone else and is outlawed to target specific groups of people (at least that's how it works in America where I live), and less sense if magic can be weaponized against the ruling class, which it seems like it can be since the mage rebellion was a thing. Why wouldn't the government want to know about the tools their enemy can use? And if I can see that, I imagine Is would have feelings about this as well, since you said she doesn't like not knowing things and the reasons for not knowing much about magic seem incredibly weak. 

Anyways I'm just sorta putting my thoughts out there. Hopefully some of them are useful. :) 

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3 hours ago, Ace of Hearts said:

This makes sense to me if it's something similar to recreational drug use that doesn't usually hurt anyone else and is outlawed to target specific groups of people (at least that's how it works in America where I live), and less sense if magic can be weaponized against the ruling class, which it seems like it can be since the mage rebellion was a thing. Why wouldn't the government want to know about the tools their enemy can use? And if I can see that, I imagine Is would have feelings about this as well, since you said she doesn't like not knowing things and the reasons for not knowing much about magic seem incredibly weak. 

Trying to think of whether it fits the drug use scenario (I'm also in the US, so I'm familiar with that particular example...unfortunately).  It definitely leans more toward the political manipulation to keep the "correct" people in power aspect of that.  Or at least an attempt to keep certain groups at a disadvantage.  There are some aspects of the rebellion itself that I do think add strength to the reasons, but they are things that get worked out through the full story.  Having information suppressed (intentionally or unintentionally) over 150 years would, I think, do a whole lot of damage to a society's understanding of the truth of something, though.  And if anything, I'd say the people in power have become the least connected with the question itself because they've fallen into believing their ancestors' rhetoric.  Whereas, places farther from the capital are more concerned about the practicality of keeping their families alive than they are about the fact that the old king's hatred of magic meant that the nobles now don't really even use spellstones because it went out of fashion. There is a sort of underground pro-magic group that is more informed, but that's not something our MCs are aware of at this point. 

Your thoughts are greatly appreciated.  I literally have a google doc that is just these sorts of conversations as I keep track of or work out the reasons that things are the way they are or what things still have big gaping holes in them.  Highlighting things that are going to need more explanation in-story, or which things people are more concerned/confused about.   This subject does still have some holes in it, but I don't think they're as big as they seem at the moment...  probably better to check in on that a little further into the story. 

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I did a very brief skim of the comments just now and it sounds like I'm pretty in line with the others: this is definitely better than the previous versions, but still feels like a lot information instead of action.

The first scene of the sub is almost all interior monologue describing the politics, etc. Rather than having a scene where Is just thinks about this, if this is important then I think we need to discover it over the course of a more active scene (or scenes).

“The risk of ever-present conflict…” This is one of the areas where the sub could really benefit from a little more “show” and less “tell.” All versions of this chapter so far have alluded to conflict, but we haven’t seen it. What if we walking in on nobles yelling at each other? On Is discovering one noble’s scheme to cut another? What if we see a scene of one of the nobles actually making that threat to call the king before a judge? Etc etc. (Similarly: your summary of the previous parts of Ch1 mentions ‘gossip’ about the Duke of T arriving. What if you just cut to the arrival and some of the kerfuffle that ensues?)

“We can’t afford it right now.” It’s not enough on it’s own, I wouldn’t say, but this line is a good example of what I’d like to see more of: it’s not only characters having a frank interaction, it says a lot more about the precarity of the political situation than anything I’ve read so far. Up until this point I never would have had the idea that the nobles squabbling was more than a nuisance.

“...and likely snooped through my notes…” Then why did she leave them where they could be snooped?

If T and A have been tripping over servants why is their stuff still halfway through unpacking?

Admittedly a touch of WRS, since I don’t quite remember who R is, I thought he was chief of staff or something similar… but even so, the fact that he’s not where he’s supposed to be and that they’re separating his stuff from A’s seems significant, but I have no idea why.

I have pretty much the same comment about the last scene as I did about the first. It feels a little different because we at least have two characters in dialogue, but it’s still a very reflective scene whose purpose seems to be to give us information rather than move the story forward. To the greatest extent possible, your scenes should do both.

One thing to keep in mind: It’s okay to trust your reader. It feels right now like the narrative is trying to prepare us for the story, rather than getting on with the business of actually telling the story. I’m sure there’s an interesting story here, so let’s see it! Jump right in, let the action propel us forward and feed us the information we need as we need it instead of trying to frontload. There’s a danger in going too far the other way, to be sure, but if you give us the characters’ actions, decisions, and emotions you might be surprised at how much of the rest we can fill in for ourselves.

It sounds like you're already thinking in the right direction about finding a better place to start, so that's also good! Once you find that inciting incident - whether that is by moving forward in the timeline or identifying something in the scenes you've given us so far that kicks things into gear (think: what is the thing that makes everything change, how does it make everything change, and what do the characters do about it) - I suspect that things will start to come together for you. You already have very clear prose and have obviously thought a lot about the world and how it is put together. Those things will stand you in good stead once you get your starting point figured out.

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I think I'm going to be repeating the same sentiment as many other readers. There's not enough of a hook for me in either of these chapters. Nothing is gripping my attention or moving my emotions. It seems like there's a lot of underlying tension in the story that wants to take center stage, but is being skirted around (for now.)
That being said, I enjoy your writing style; it's clear and easy to read. I sense that the story is going somewhere and it's not scattered. There seems to be a deep world in this story that is well fleshed out, but the lack of conflict/suspense/action has it falling flat a bit. I think if you managed to alter the pacing to allow more tension and action, then those lengthy patches of exposition would be much more digestible. Anyways, thanks for sharing your story with us! As I said, I enjoy your writing style and look forward to reading more submissions from you. Cheers.

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On 01/02/2021 at 0:23 PM, C_Vallion said:

I’m not good at calling out the specific things that aren’t working

Honestly, I think this is perhaps that most useful thing that any of us can learn, and I think there is no easy way to learn it but to keep going, and listen to the feedback you are getting, even if it is difficult to take, and act upon.

Sorry for the delay, and I know there is water under the bridge, but I'd like to catch up. There's no way I could take on the alpha read, I'm afraid, but if you've got @kais on the...case, you don't need me.

Ergo, comments on this sub.

Chapter 1

- A lot of crunchy detail at the start. From what I've read so far, I am still not engaged by this character, and that is where any story should start, IMO. Why would I put any store in the internal thoughts of a character that I am not engaged with? I thought we were going to get this engagement with the hawk scene, and there was a little bit of character in her exchanges with the maid, but by the time we got the library and her exchange with her mother, it was all political detail and very little if anything at all of character. No amount of  political detail is more less interesting than a good, solid, engaging and interesting character.

- Okay, the library scene is different, and it's shorter, that's good but, noting my point above, I don't think the message is getting through. I feel that the reader must be engaged with the character, and preferably the setting as well, before all this heavy, heavy, detail lands on them (the reader). Countries, nations, factions, none of it matters without a personal perspective, and we still don't have that. I know that there is mention of Is-a's motivation to help her father, but that's quite generic. What are her hopes and dreams, hers, not her father's or mother's, what does she want from life, what is she striving towards? What type of person is she? What are her faults? Her flaws?

- "He raised his eyebrow at the sight of her and smirked before making some comment to her mother" - This is the first time I've been shown a conflict instead of being told about it. There is a massive difference between telling the reader that this nation or faction is in conflict with that country or party, and showing them a conflict and letting them experience it.

- "he meant to hold the knowledge over her" - Why is this significant?

- "likely snooped through my notes while you were there" - I'm absolutely incredulous that the queen would leave private political notes lying around in the library. It is mind-bogglingly naive, and makes me think she's an idiot, and would deserve any and all bad things that happened to her as a result of an enemy seeing those notes. In actual fact, what it reads like is the author making something happen to affect the plot, but those things have to be plausible, have to be consistent with character, and this leaving out of private notes did not seem that to me.

- "Then who will help him? Because you know he won’t ask" - Here is a small glint of character.

- "But there are things I could get away with then that I can’t now" - Why? I don't follow.

- "If she’d had time to think ahead, she would have expected that" - Expected what? I don't understand.

- "I don’t have the time I used to" - Eh?! She doesn't have the time to deal with the world-encompassing issue? That does not seem plausible.

- "One that had apparently been burning steadily for the past fifteen years" - Eh?

- Last line is decent, but there are starting to be introduced jumps in logic, people making decisions for reason that I don't understand. I think that plot here at the start is far too complex to be understood by anyone who does not have all the background that your have in your head or in your notes. 

Consider Lord of the Rings as an example, or indeed Wheel of Time, and maybe Mistborn too, and I'll try to illustrate my point. None of those three stories attempts to describe the entire world in the first chapter, laying out all the factions and intrigues and conflicts and threats. In fact, they all do completely the opposite. They largely eschew references to politics (maybe the odd point notes in passing) all together. Instead they focus completely and utterly on establishing character, and maybe setting to a degree. There is a reason that JRR Tolkien, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson do that, and it's because loading plot into the start of a story doesn't work. It doesn't engage the reader, because they need to have a character to root for, and a foothold in the setting that they understand, can feel solid in before plot details are fed in gradually. I feel that you are desperate to spool out as much plot as possible as soon as possible but that does, not, work.

I would encourage you to look at stories you have read recently and study how the authors open those stories. I would wager that it is closer to the template of establishing character and location before any complex plot details appear, and when they do they are fed in gradually.

Chapter 2 

- I reckon a pendant goes around the neck, and the bracelet around the wrist. I guess something can hang from a bracelet, but it's confusing.

- Obviously, Al is essentially a new character, as he was a child in the prologue, but I'm struggling to remember if Trev is the old advisor, or the younger(?) steward crawling in the rubble trying to free Al's father. A wee reminder here would be good, just a word or two.

- Okay, the opening to this chapter is okay. It's a little slow maybe, but I feel it's establishing Al as a character (a little, not a lot), it's reminding me about Trev, and it showing something about magic, also a little tension/conflict over the gift. A fair start, but I want it to move on quickly no, after the first page.

- Okay, Al is reasonably decisive. I was concerned that he was going to fay about and need someone else to solve the problem for him, but he seems to have some agency. 

- "Servants stood on ladders in the gardens below, securing swaths of blue fabric" - Nice bit of colour (literally), just enough to establish setting, and show the preparations for the party.

- Because so many countries have been mentioned, I can't remember which one Tra is.

- Who's working as hard as they can? I'm getting confused. Who is Was again? Is any of this relevant to the plot? Cut.

- "head of the duke’s serving staff" - Nope. This is a butler, who would not leave the duke's own seat, and certainly would not be in charge of arrangements, IMO. The chap who make travel arrangements, accompanies the duke of visits, etc. would surely be a chief steward. The implication here is that he's the same chap that directs the staff serving the duke's meals. I don't buy that at all.

- I'm confused, what was the hiss of pain about? Did he stab himself with the needle? Unclear. Also, no way does the heard steward sew the duke's clothes for him. Also, this is boring. Cut.

- Who is Ras? I'm confused.

- "ran his thumb across each stone in turn" - If it's that easy to check, it's all the more unbelievable that they didn't do it before packing all these things.

- This chapter is eight pages long, and the only thing that actually happens is that Al changes his mind over which gift to give one princess and the other. That's all that happens.

Overall 

Okay, this is way, way too confusing. There is far too much detail that has no bearing at all on plot, or character, and needs to be cut, hard cut.

Dan Wells (I think), during some season of of Writing Excuses exposed the theory (I think it was Dan, might have been Howard) that sometimes a writer does not have the skill to writer the story they are trying to write, and need to defer it, practice, hone the craft and the other facets of writing skill (including self-regulartion), and then come back to it after having practised on other things, shorts, novellas, whatever, and come back to their passion project with a new perspective.

It's clear that you have skills in relation to language, and world-building, but--I think--there is no self-regulation in terms of what should be in the story and what should not. In Elements of Style, by Strunk and White--something of a seminal work in writing about the craft of writing--the authors say 'Cut all unnecessary words'. Stephen King, in his memoir On Writing (which I'm reading at the moment) quotes Strunk, and he also cites the example of his first writing job on the local newspaper, when his editor said (on submission of King's first two pieces) "When you write the story, you're telling it to yourself. When you re-write, your main job is taking out the bits that are not the story." 

I think what you need to do--as a test exercise--is go through the MS with track changes on and cut out all the bits that do not affect the plot. The man servant hisses in pain, dirty shirt, clothes all around, doesn't affect the plot. The servants hanging the bunting, establishes the party, and the ceremony, probably okay. The stuff about the jewellery looks like it might be relevant further on, foreshadowing, probably fine. The long-serving nature of the Trev? We';ve had that in the prologue, haven't we? All the stuff about rooms being too small, clothes being unpacked. All that can be summed up in a couple of lines, and I have a strong feeling that none of it is going to be relevant to the plot. You might not have much left, but that's fine. I get the impression that you are tinkering with the MS, when what's needed is a major re-write.

Another thing that contributed to my confusion is that the narrative is fragmented. They are talking about the rooms, then they are talking about the gift, then they are talking about Was, and none of these 'thoughts' or conversations is finished before they go on to another topic. It's too complicated and too confusing. I suggest finishing with one topic in the chapter, resolve it, and move on to the next.

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On 02/02/2021 at 6:30 PM, C_Vallion said:

As a general question, do you usually expect the inciting incident to always be in the first few paragraphs?

Not necessarily, but I feel like I've read three chapters (I'm including the prologue), and we still haven't had an inciting incident. The prologue at least had tension in the aftermath of the explosion. There was death, upheaval, change in governance / inheritance of the child. The opening two chapter have been very slow. For example, if the inciting incident is something like Is receives the wrong present, activates a magical stone in the midst of her birthday party and blows out the wall of the great hall, I would say that could be at the end of the first chapter, but something like that looks a long, long way away from where we are here.

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