C_Vallion

4.5.2021 – C_Vallion – The Cold Eyes of the Stars – Short Story - (L,G,V) – 6358 Words

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Hi, All!

This is the dieselpunk short story I’ve been working on while taking a break from Price of Peace.  Tagged for language and war-related violence and gore.

I like a lot of things about how it has turned out so far, but could use some feedback from you guys on things that are confusing or need tightening up. All input is helpful, since it’s been quite a while since I’ve done much shorter writing, but other than general feedback the things I’ve been specifically looking for thoughts on are the following:

Thoughts on the title?  I’m not entirely sold on it, but also know I spend far too much time overthinking titles.

Does the setting carry through? It gets a lot more focus in the opening scene than through the rest, but I’m not sure if it needs anything additional or if it works as is.

Do the characters’ motivations and actions seem clear and consistent?

General points of confusion?

Any concerning loose ends? 

Thoughts on where the wordcount might be trimmed, or if there are specific things that need to be fleshed out more?

Thanks!

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This was a fun short story! I found it very readable and engaging throughout. 

The biggest problem for me was the shift from mech and guns action in the first scene to the intrigue and political manoeuvring for the rest of it. In a longer story it would be good to have different kinds of things going on, but for a short story, it made that first scene feel disconnected from the rest of it. I don’t think you can just get rid of that first bit though, because it establishes the bloodiness and desperation of the fighting, especially with P’s death. You need those stakes. If you would like a suggestion, maybe you could rewrite the first bit so the action revolves more around secrets and intrigue and less blowing stuff up? Like, maybe they need to get intel to damage the mechs? That’s just an idea, up to you. 

The other problem I had was the plot got a bit confusing at times. I’ll go into exactly which bits tripped me up, but generally, there’s a lot of changes and reversals going on, plus the basic setup of the setting and characters need to be absorbed. There are lots of moving parts to keep track of and a lot happens very quickly. 

I did like the characters. I found them compelling, and their motivations and emotional states were clear and made sense throughout. 

I can’t help you much with the title. Titles are hard. It’s not bad as is, but it doesn’t grab my attention.

As I read:

pg5 - ‘Two rounds gone. Five left.’ Seven rounds? I thought six was customary for a pistol. Is this a special dieselpunk pistol?

pg6 - why is V trying to drag P’s body while being fired on? I get that he’s upset, but there are limits. Also, he was just yelling at P to leave the gun and get out. 

pg6 - continuity nitpick: the stars are visible. It was overcast earlier. 

pg8 - ‘He’d served forty years before’ - he served for forty years? Or he served forty years ago? From context I assume the latter, but the wording could be clearer

pg9 - unclear how serious V’s shoulder wound is. He’s up and walking around with it. Was he just grazed? Or is there a bullet in there?

pg10/11 - I agree with V here, this sounds like a hopeless fight and surrender is the best option

pg12 - I like the power-crazy vibes from M here. They’re subtle enough that I believe he’s still in charge and other characters don’t question it too hard, but I can see there’s definitely something up with this guy.

p14 - This is where I started to get confused. I wasn’t super clear on exactly what the reveal was here. I got that V has caught M in a lie, and that M has jeopardised K and the boys, but the specifics are not immediately evident and I felt a bit lost.

pg16 - I’m a bit confused about the details of M’s plan here. How will they all get citizenship if K is a hostage? Wasn’t his plan doomed the moment K walked?

pg17 - I assumed that the ring meant that K was dead, but I wasn’t sure. Given how quickly K’s assumed status changes, I need to be really clear on whether we think she’s alive or dead at any given point.

pg20 - This was a reveal rollercoaster! And that’s fun. My one quibble is how the Zi set all this up. Unless they have detailed knowledge of the ongoing situation with M and V, the plan is one hell of a long shot. They had to know that faking K’s death would lead to V discovering that M plans to betray them, and that this would drive V to defect to the Zi’s side. And they had to know exactly where V would be, to deliver that info to him, along with K’s ring. Honestly, I’m not sure who planned what and what was just a crazy coincidence here.

Thanks for sharing, and I hope my feedback is useful!

 

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Thoughts As I Go:

Pg. 1 – What happened to the other two sabotuers? Did they get caught by the guards, or did they run away?

Pg. 4 – I’m not having a great sense of what’s happening. There’s an explosion and some kind of mech is shielding Vi?

Pg. 5 – Seven round semiautomatic pistol gives me the year 1911 as a benchmark for the approximate technology age. It does make me wonder why they don’t have rifles with clips.

Pg. 7 – It’s a pity that the Z is using Pa’s gun, I’m curious what the rank-and-file Z weapons are.

Pg. 11 – I’m now picturing AT-ATs for the massive Z mechs.

Pg. 15 – I was wondering if Ma was actually going to have a decent motive and train of thought

Pg. 16 – Nevermind. There doesn’t have actually seem to have been a plan other than ‘flail wildly and hope it works somehow’.

 

Overall: This seems to be a standard ‘war is heck’ story, with vague, but firm stakes. There’s really two parts to this, the opening scene and then the negotiation scene, so I’ll deal with them separately. The opening war scene is fine, but it could use a little more dieselpunk if you want to commit to it. Swap out the nameless enemy mechs for Panzers and there’s really no difference. The action itself was nicely done, but the weapons confused me a little – generally a pistol, especially a clip-fed semiautomatic, is reserved for military officers, it doesn’t make much sense for someone in a peasant militia to own one without some kind of explanation.

The transition could be better. It took me quite bit into the second part to realize that Vi went back to the Z’s camp to deal with them. Romanian is also an interesting choice to give to an invading army in a dieselpunk setting - rewind the clock to the 1600s and it makes a lot more sense.

The negotiation scene, which is Vi against Ma, could stand to be better as well. As it stands, Ma is kind of a crude caricature of a villain - he comes across as someone willing to sacrifice a lot to save a little when the little is close to him but also too stupid to realize that he can’t save the little either. (Seriously? A commando raid against the enemy when they have hostages?) If you added a little to his motivation, say, gave him a line about how the entire town would be dead even if they did turn over to the Zs when because they would get up in the crossfire, then I think that would go a long way towards making him a more sympathetic villain.

Vi himself is written quite well over the entire exchange.

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First off, this is a HUGE improvement over what I've read from you so far. I thought this was a really thought provoking read with some gritty undertones.

I'm with @aeromancer on the separation between the two parts. The second part is the meat of the story, with the clash between two brothers over how to save their town. To that end, I'd suggest both dieselpunk-ing up the second part (maybe with a steam-powered limb for N, or the enemy has cyborg soldiers, or it's a mechanical moving fortress, or something), and also cutting down the first section a whole lot to make it a brief, tense, intro. Right now there are too many names, and the only one that matters is P. keep just the sacrifice of the kid, which drives V. Maybe it's just a two-man team, or the rest got killed along the way, or something.

V has a very well developed character for a short story, but I think to make it really pop, show us the real desperation that would make him shoot his own brother to save the village and his family. The ending right now leaves me hanging just a bit, because although M is incompetent, I don't know if he's killably incompetent, especially since he's V's brother, and father to two kids. Why does M have to die to save the village? Right now, the same effect could be achieved by tying him up, explaining things to N, and then the same ending would happen where they could all agree to lie to save face for M. Either that, or really sell me on why M has to die.

But overall, great job!

 

Notes while reading:

pg 1: first sentence is very long and awkward.

pg 1: "made their way past"
--this sounds like they passed without incident, but two of them didn't make it.

pg 1: "they’d always protected him."
--the wolves and bears?

pg 2: There are a lot of names for a short story already. Maybe cut down the number or leave some unnamed?

pg 2: V's been fastening an explosive for two pages while there is extra explanation and worldbuilding. I don't think you need to take the worldbuilding out, but maybe move the action more together and wait for some of the worldbuilding until they're out of direct danger? Otherwise the tension starts to lag.

pg 3: "There. He’d put the wretched thing on upside-down"
--Is this a lever on the explosive? Unclear.

pg 4: The end of this page might be good place to start putting some of the worldbuilding from teh previous pages. Let the action of the explosive planting and machs blowing up drive the tension.

pg 6: "watching as boys died."
--I'm unclear why the others couldn't get away if P could, who's presumably older than them.

pg 8: It's definitely exciting! I can see the sort of Slavic town and action. I think the first section could be trimmed up some more and this would really shine.
Also, after this first break would be a good place to spread out some of the worldbuilding as well.

pg 10: Was O. with the group that sabotaged the machines? This is where the problem with too many names comes in. With a short story, there's no time to develop them.

pg 13: "“After the first mech exploded, they were preparing a messenger. To remind you of the rules they set"
--is this the mech V exploded? Would they have had time to do this?

pg 14/15 good tension on these pages.

pg 17: “What would she say?”
--M's wife or V's?

pg 17: "firing the last shot home"
--does this mean V shot M? Unclear and I don't think the gun was described as pointing at him.

pg 19: "And the body."
--okay, so V did kill M. I think that needs to be a little more clear.

pg 22: Good ending, though I'm not sure it ties everything up. I think V needs to have more angst over killing his brother.
 

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Did anyone have thoughts on the length of the piece as it is now?  I'd tried to keep it as trimmed back as possible (still need to cut a name or two if I can) based on the wordcount limit for submissions here, but that definitely reduced the worldbuilding and setting description to some extent, and probably didn't help the general clarity of some of the scene two conversation. Did any of you have thoughts on the current length and whether it can afford the additional explanation and description without feeling too long?

On 4/5/2021 at 0:41 PM, RedBlue said:

I did like the characters. I found them compelling, and their motivations and emotional states were clear and made sense throughout. 

On 4/6/2021 at 2:22 PM, Mandamon said:

First off, this is a HUGE improvement over what I've read from you so far.

On 4/5/2021 at 6:09 PM, aeromancer said:

Vi himself is written quite well over the entire exchange.

Hooray! Improvement! Thanks, all! 

On 4/5/2021 at 6:09 PM, aeromancer said:

There’s really two parts to this, the opening scene and then the negotiation scene, so I’ll deal with them separately.

On 4/6/2021 at 2:22 PM, Mandamon said:

I'm with @aeromancer on the separation between the two parts.

On 4/5/2021 at 0:41 PM, RedBlue said:

The biggest problem for me was the shift from mech and guns action in the first scene to the intrigue and political manoeuvring for the rest of it.

Huh.  This is actually not an aspect I'd even thought much about for whatever reason.  I'll definitely have to figure out a better way to tie things together over this transition.  

On 4/5/2021 at 0:41 PM, RedBlue said:

The other problem I had was the plot got a bit confusing at times. I’ll go into exactly which bits tripped me up, but generally, there’s a lot of changes and reversals going on, plus the basic setup of the setting and characters need to be absorbed. There are lots of moving parts to keep track of and a lot happens very quickly. 

I expected there to be issues on this front, and appreciate the notes of what things are still confusing.  It's always tricky to keep track of what things the reader definitely knows, what they should think, and what is actually going on at any given time.  And while I love the moments of when those puzzles work out in a reveal, it's one of the things I always need input on to know how it comes across to a first-time reader. 

On 4/5/2021 at 6:09 PM, aeromancer said:

Pg. 15 – I was wondering if Ma was actually going to have a decent motive and train of thought

Pg. 16 – Nevermind. There doesn’t have actually seem to have been a plan other than ‘flail wildly and hope it works somehow’.

On 4/6/2021 at 2:22 PM, Mandamon said:

The ending right now leaves me hanging just a bit, because although M is incompetent, I don't know if he's killably incompetent,

On 4/5/2021 at 0:41 PM, RedBlue said:

pg12 - I like the power-crazy vibes from M here. They’re subtle enough that I believe he’s still in charge and other characters don’t question it too hard, but I can see there’s definitely something up with this guy.

This should be coming across better, but I apparently need to fix some things regarding his thought process.  There is definitely some crazed desperation going on that is interfering, but it should come across more as a combination of wanting to save his family and improve their quality of life by achieving citizenship in the process. I'd trimmed some of the conversation back for word count purposes.  I'll have to see if some of that was lost there or if it was missing altogether.

On 4/5/2021 at 0:41 PM, RedBlue said:

pg20 - This was a reveal rollercoaster! And that’s fun. My one quibble is how the Zi set all this up. Unless they have detailed knowledge of the ongoing situation with M and V, the plan is one hell of a long shot. They had to know that faking K’s death would lead to V discovering that M plans to betray them, and that this would drive V to defect to the Zi’s side. And they had to know exactly where V would be, to deliver that info to him, along with K’s ring. Honestly, I’m not sure who planned what and what was just a crazy coincidence here.

On 4/5/2021 at 6:09 PM, aeromancer said:

The transition could be better. It took me quite bit into the second part to realize that Vi went back to the Z’s camp to deal with them.

This is one of the other things I expected might be clear enough.  I'm realizing I didn't do a good job of clarifying what V had been told by the Z and what he figures out on his own, and what is there about that comes in a little too late when the reader has already made assumptions.

Ultimately, it's not that the Z set everything up.  They'd been planning to send a messenger to M with the ultimatum of "give up the town or we move in anyway" but changed plans to put the matter in V's hands.  They want the town turned over.  All they know about what M is up to is what K has told them, and she doesn't know anything.  So V is sent to have the town handed over, by whatever means necessary.  Or they move in.  V goes in partly hoping there's some big misunderstanding and partly assuming that he'll be able to convince M to surrender.  It's only when he realizes that M has very intentionally betrayed the town and has put K at risk in the process that he wants M gone.  He's willing to send him off to deal with the repercussions of his choices, but when M isn't willing to give up the ring, he gets desperate.   

The Z kick things of by putting all the pressure on V (implying that K and company are at risk if he fails to get them the town), but they aren't doing the plotting themselves.  But I can definitely see that it's not clear what information and pressure is coming from where.

On 4/6/2021 at 2:22 PM, Mandamon said:

I think to make it really pop, show us the real desperation that would make him shoot his own brother to save the village and his family

It is his brother-in-law, not his brother (I assume there being more references to nephews than to a sister and brother-in-law probably make that less clear).  So while they have a history, V's loyalty to his sister, and the risk M has put K and the kids draws clear lines for V. 

On 4/5/2021 at 6:09 PM, aeromancer said:

Pg. 5 – Seven round semiautomatic pistol gives me the year 1911 as a benchmark for the approximate technology age. It does make me wonder why they don’t have rifles with clips.

On 4/5/2021 at 6:09 PM, aeromancer said:

The action itself was nicely done, but the weapons confused me a little – generally a pistol, especially a clip-fed semiautomatic, is reserved for military officers, it doesn’t make much sense for someone in a peasant militia to own one without some kind of explanation.

I wondered if this might flush out the firearms experts in the group :P 
Correct on the rough pistol specs. I'm picturing this to be a roughly WWI time period, though not associated with any specific real world place or conflict at this point. 
The pistol would have come from V's fur trading with the the Z, for defense during hunting trips where managing a rifle around a charging bear might get complicated.   

P's rifle would have probably been older. Some sort of hand-me-down from a parent or grandparent.  I will admit that I neglected my research there in regard to rifles.  I was mostly picturing my grandfather's single shot .22, and had assumed something along those lines would be more common outside military weaponry. But that could very well be entirely wrong.  I'd definitely appreciate your thoughts on what might be fitting for basic farm defense at the time. 

On 4/5/2021 at 6:09 PM, aeromancer said:

Pg. 7 – It’s a pity that the Z is using Pa’s gun, I’m curious what the rank-and-file Z weapons are.

If I ever follow through on the vague ideas for turning the whole thing into some very loose adaptation of a dieselpunk Hamlet (sorry, Vi.  You do probably don't deserve to get away entirely clean from this...) so that my husband can make an audiodrama of it, I will have to figure that out. As it is, I might have intentionally avoided that question.  

On 4/5/2021 at 6:09 PM, aeromancer said:

Pg. 11 – I’m now picturing AT-ATs for the massive Z mechs.

On 4/5/2021 at 6:09 PM, aeromancer said:

Romanian is also an interesting choice to give to an invading army in a dieselpunk setting - rewind the clock to the 1600s and it makes a lot more sense.

The setting (both the general concept of having mechs stomping through otherwise cheery pastoral settings and the rough time period) takes a ton of inspiration from the artwork Jakub Rozalski has done for the Scythe board game and the Iron Harvest video game. https://iron-harvest.fandom.com/wiki/Rusviet_Art .  Though the mechs here aren't based on a specific one of those (most of those would be closer to the bigger war mechs that would be threatening to move in later).  Something like this is probably the closest to what I was picturing size/style-wise.  (https://cdnb.artstation.com/p/assets/images/images/000/491/487/4k/jakub-rozalski-1920-youshallnotpass-new.jpg?1443927757)   

I'm hoping to add in a little more to flesh out the mech design and dieselpunk feel of the setting (really, I'm not sure that's quite the right description, but it's the closest recognizable genre I could think of). Especially if general perception is that the word count isn't a problem at the moment and can afford some additional length adding to the world building. 

I still need to figure out how to avoid implying a specific historical conflict with the language.  The right answer is probably to make up a few phrases of a language that is close enough to what's common in the region to fit the setting, and to run it past a friend who is a linguistics professor. But I wanted to see how this came across for the early draft. 

Thanks so much, all! 

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3 minutes ago, C_Vallion said:

Did anyone have thoughts on the length of the piece as it is now?

I think both @aeromancer and I mentioned the first half can be cut down quite a bit, plus have some characters removed. I think that would help if you want to lower wordcount.

4 minutes ago, C_Vallion said:

The setting (both the general concept of having mechs stomping through otherwise cheery pastoral settings and the rough time period) takes a ton of inspiration from the artwork Jakub Rozalski has done for the Scythe board game and the Iron Harvest video game.

I thought I mentioned that in my feedback, but evidently not. As I was reading the first few pages, I was thinking to myself, "This sounds like the Scythe board game!"

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1 hour ago, C_Vallion said:

Did anyone have thoughts on the length of the piece as it is now?  I'd tried to keep it as trimmed back as possible (still need to cut a name or two if I can) based on the wordcount limit for submissions here, but that definitely reduced the worldbuilding and setting description to some extent, and probably didn't help the general clarity of some of the scene two conversation. Did any of you have thoughts on the current length and whether it can afford the additional explanation and description without feeling too long?

I think the length depends on what you want the piece to be. If it’s just for writing practice, you’re probably going to want to trim it down, to really focus in on the important parts (also for ease of getting critiques!) If it’s a proof of concept or dry run for a longer piece you want to write in the setting, you probably want to expand it to include more worldbuilding and descriptions, and never mind the word count. 

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8 hours ago, C_Vallion said:

I wondered if this might flush out the firearms experts in the group :P 
Correct on the rough pistol specs. I'm picturing this to be a roughly WWI time period, though not associated with any specific real world place or conflict at this point. 
The pistol would have come from V's fur trading with the the Z, for defense during hunting trips where managing a rifle around a charging bear might get complicated.   

P's rifle would have probably been older. Some sort of hand-me-down from a parent or grandparent.  I will admit that I neglected my research there in regard to rifles.  I was mostly picturing my grandfather's single shot .22, and had assumed something along those lines would be more common outside military weaponry. But that could very well be entirely wrong.  I'd definitely appreciate your thoughts on what might be fitting for basic farm defense at the time. 

I'm not sure I would call myself a 'firearms expert', more of a 'antique weapons nut', but let's see what I could do.

The pistol I'm envisioning right now is the Colt 1911, though a Luger makes more sense ... except a Luger uses an 8-round magazine, as opposed to the Colt's 7-round, and you specified the main character's gun having seven bullets (which actually means it has a six-round magazine, unless V forgot to load one in the chamber.) It is also not a great weapon to use against a bear. The Luger used a maximum of 9mm ammunition, which is comparable to a US .358 round, and it is a pistol round, meaning that it lack penetration and stopping power and while you could use it to kill a human, it will not be good against a charging bear. A better weapon would be a rifle (because you can shoot them at a long distance and it has penetration) or a shotgun (because shotgun).

If I could recommend a pistol here, it would be the abandoned Salvator Dormus pistol, the first semi-automatic pistol built upon the principals of Maxim's machine gun. The pistol was markedly inferior to later pistols and was abandoned, with only a handful ever being commissioned. Nowadays, it's a rare and valuable antique, but It wouldn't be far-fetched for someone important in a village to buy one on the cheap when the military decided to upgrade it's weapons from them. It has a five round magazine (plus one in the chamber).

For P's rifle,  honestly using your grandfather's .22 is perfectly fine. The standard rifle for WWI companies was a repeating bolt-action rifle (the US 1903 Springfield, British Short Magazine Lee-Enfield, or the German Gewehr 98) but a village defending itself would be using whatever it had on hand and an old single-shot rifle would hardly be out of place.

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11 hours ago, Mandamon said:

As I was reading the first few pages, I was thinking to myself, "This sounds like the Scythe board game!"

Hah! I wondered how evident it would be to someone who was familiar with the game.  Since the first time we played it, my husband and I have been fascinated by the storytelling potential of the setting.  Especially with the often-amusing vague implications of stories behind the event cards.

2 hours ago, aeromancer said:

more of a 'antique weapons nut', but let's see what I could do.

Sounds more reliable than 'being from an area where the first day of deer season is basically a holiday' and the related family traditions.   

All of your information here was super helpful. 

2 hours ago, aeromancer said:

though a Luger makes more sense ... except a Luger uses an 8-round magazine

I was thinking the Luger, actually. Though I am about 90% sure the site I'd found listing the standard WWI pistols for various countries said it was a 7-round magazine.  And, of course, I can't find said site again because I don't know what magical combination of search terms led me there.  So I have no idea if I severely misremembered or if I happened to stumble across a spot on the internet where something was wrong *gasp*. It also mentioned another manufacturer that would have been more likely for Romania, but I couldn't find specs on it listed anywhere, so I pretended I never saw it...

Either way.  None of the above misguided internet searching makes up for forgetting the round in the chamber in-story.  I wasn't thinking about that aspect of wanting to maximize the number of rounds. Probably also a result of most firearm habits coming from target shooting at camp and hunter safety training, where the risk of a chambered round accidentally discharging isn't worth the extra target shot.  We generally also keep the magazine one short, since the spring is stiff enough that it's a pain to fully load.  Though the internet tells me that's a pretty standard practice to protect springs?  I assume that's mostly when the magazines are being stored loaded? The engineering side of my brain is now going to spend far too much time this evening wondering about the most likely conditions for magazine spring failure.

But I digress.

2 hours ago, aeromancer said:

It is also not a great weapon to use against a bear.

Fair. I was thinking more as emergency back-up.  If he's carrying a rifle while hunting, that's obviously going to be the primary choice. But I'd imagine having a holstered pistol at-hand would still be safer and more effective than if the rifle has been shouldered and needs to be brought around to shoot or if it's a one-shot rifle and needs to be reloaded or if surprised when camped when a bulkier firearm might have been set aside.  I imagine a close range pistol shot still being better than being mauled by a bear while trying to wrestle with a shoulder strap on a rifle. 

2 hours ago, aeromancer said:

If I could recommend a pistol here, it would be the abandoned Salvator Dormus pistol, the first semi-automatic pistol built upon the principals of Maxim's machine gun. The pistol was markedly inferior to later pistols and was abandoned, with only a handful ever being commissioned. Nowadays, it's a rare and valuable antique, but It wouldn't be far-fetched for someone important in a village to buy one on the cheap when the military decided to upgrade it's weapons from them. It has a five round magazine (plus one in the chamber).

This sounds like a really excellent fit for this. Thanks! 

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Overall

Wow! This was a giant leap from your last piece, and in all the best ways! I think some of the old issues remain, such as burying the lede, waiting too long for emotional impact and real global motivations, but it moved so much faster than your last piece. Fantastic improvement!

I agree with the others that the first part should be cut down quite a bit. I had a very hard time grounding myself at all in a long battle with people I did not yet care about. I felt like the piece finally found its footing in the last few pages, where the emotional resonance hit home. I also agree that playing up the dieslpunk in the first bit would help, as would cutting out a lot of those extra names. Focus on the people we truly need, the two that do all the chit chat in part two.

Nicely done!

 

As I go

- pg 4: the writing is very engaging through here but I'm not connecting with the characters or world at all. I don't really feel drawn to anything, and feel like I am reading just to find the hook

- pg 6: this is a very  long battle scene for having no real character or world buy-in yet

- pg 10: aside from this being a steampunk piece with large fighting mechas, and our lead trying to get his...wife and sons(??) back, I'm just not sure what the goal of this piece is. What is the global plot? What caused the kidnappings? I know it's been said but it just isn't sticking with me as as a strong enough motivator. We started with a long battle. There are large robot animals. Now people are talking and I know our lead wants to get family back but other than that I feel very adrift in the story

- bottom of page 11 we get some world building that I think was desperately needed much earlier. There's an evil empire and a tax situation. So very standard fantasy fare, and would have helped to have in the first page or so

- pg 16: I'm starting to get a better feel for the conflict between our two protagonists, the desperation of the one in particular. Still I feel like this could/should have come much earlier

- pg 21: much better emotions once the wife and kids are here

 

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Hi hi :)

As I go:

pg 1: I immediately like how mechanical imagery is juxtaposed with natural stuff (hunting bears/wolves). Though hunting apex predators has got to be doing a number on the ecosystem... 

-The name P makes my mind immediately go to the title used for Ottoman commanders, which I'm assuming wasn't the intention? Probably not a big deal though

pg 4: Everything's flowing smoothly but I feel like I need an understandable character hook here. I don't really know what this guy's deal is yet and how he fits into the larger setting.

pg 5: I think some of this is me being tired, but I'm having a little bit of trouble with scene-setting, especially with the mechs. I'm assuming they're not in the mechs but I'm honestly not 100% sure. 

pg 7: Really like the action here. Seems like this is where things really get moving.

pg 9: I'm guessing I'm not supposed to understand exactly what he was told, but I really have no clue what the boy was getting at. Because V clearly knows I'm wondering if I'm missing something. 

pg 10: Okay some of the larger-scale stuff is making more sense to me now

pg 12: Oh wow the detail about his wife is a great one for telling me more about V 

-Does M actually think that continuing to fight will save lives in the city? His line of reasoning doesn't make sense to me. And I don't think it needs to, necessarily, but I want V to call that out. 

-Ah so that's what he was told. Was that in the background or did I just totally miss that? (my reading comprehension is pretty bad in general though so it could just be me)

pg 13: Does M have any reason at all for continuing to fight? Everything he's saying feels super hollow to me. 

-Return "her?" Again, should I know what this means? I'm assuming this is supposed to be a mystery for now and I'm intrigued 

pg 14: I'm confused. Didn't M just yell at V for saying they should leave, and now he's saying the same thing?

-Oh is he planning to escape with just his family and leave the rest of the town to die? 

pg 15: Idk what this says about me but I'm rooting for V to shoot 

-Okay now I get M a little more. I feel like this should have come earlier, or V should get a feeling there was more to what M's saying earlier

pg 16: no comments other than that I'm really engaged here. :) Like seriously, this is going to stick with me. 

pg 17: shoot, shoot, shoot

pg 19: It does strike me as a bit odd that there would be no questions about what V did. I mean, the town has no assurance he isn't lying, right? 

pg 20: Dang again this is really solid. K appearing really pushes the momentum forward.

pg 22: One thing I want to see at the end is some more assurance that the people will be okay under Z rule. Seems like something V would want them to demonstrate. 

Overall:

On 4/5/2021 at 8:20 AM, C_Vallion said:

Thoughts on the title?  I’m not entirely sold on it, but also know I spend far too much time overthinking titles.

Does the setting carry through? It gets a lot more focus in the opening scene than through the rest, but I’m not sure if it needs anything additional or if it works as is.

Do the characters’ motivations and actions seem clear and consistent?

General points of confusion?

Any concerning loose ends? 

Thoughts on where the wordcount might be trimmed, or if there are specific things that need to be fleshed out more?

 

Not a huge fan of the title. The whole stars thing didn't feel like it fit into the rest of the story as a whole, honestly, and was dropped halfway through anyway

Cultural setting is great! I love the politics around this little town and their role in the larger empire vs. invaders (see, I knew the politics itself wasn't boring in your writing!). I had a bit of a hard time setting the scene at the start. V was trying to disable mechs but got found and attacked, right? Some of that I only put together afterwards even though I'm sure it was in there. In general I need a lot of help in the beginnings of stories knowing where my attention should be focused. 

Yes! Though I think it takes a bit too long to realize something's up with M. V's his brother, right? And given how close he seems with K, I gather that he's pretty close with M as well. He should know something's up. 

Points of confusion are outlined in LBLs. I get confused easily, as you might be able to tell.

Loose ends? I want to see that the family is safe. I think right now V is seeing them in the Z camp, right? I want to see them be released and potentially even settle back into their house. 

I think the start can be cut down pretty substantially. P dying is the first big thing that happens and I think we could honestly get there in 2-3 pages (starting with when things start to go wrong) to set the tone and atmosphere right off the bat. Though I do still want V to worry about him beforehand since that's what makes the death impactful. Also I think some of M's grandstanding can potentially be cut, which is easy to do if V calls him out on his BS faster. 

Ngl I was worried about reading through a long submission late at night but this really kept my attention. That's a good sign. I want to stress that the story shows how the politics in your writing can be super engaging when backed up by high personal stakes, and that it can really shine when characters are backed into a corner. 

 

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Overall:

Great! A definite improvement from previous submissions. I'm more engaged, connected to the characters, and generally invested in this story. My only nitpicks are: the setting was somewhat confusing at the beginning, it took away from my engagement. It went on a bit long. And there were almost too many characters to keep track of. I mean, probably getting rid of ol' N is the first character I think of that is basically irrelevant. As other people stated, the contrast of battle and politics feels a bit strained, but not really a problem for me. The fact that I truly cared for V's plight leads me to congratulate this story. Great work C!

As I read:

pg 1 - This first paragraph is pretty jarring to me. I feel lost from the get-go. Also the description of the mech does little for me, all I get is that it's big. "Strange, jointed legs..." I don't know what I'm supposed to imagine here. Honestly, I'm leaning towards a giant spider-looking mech.

"He’d rather they not see the things he’d done tonight." Good use of navel-gazing for this whole part.

pg 2 - I get a good sense of the MC's voice, which is great.

"The man had been so mad with rage that day..." I feel like this part would work a lot better if we had a better idea of what was going on. The first time I read this, I don't think it even registered in my brain. It would be good foreshadowing, but I think because we learn what's going on later, this part may be unnecessary.

Good tension at the end of this page.

pg 3 - "His knees still worked." Dem knees! Don't want to ruin them too soon.

pg 4 - I'm confused. Did the mech that V was right beside explode? Wouldn't he be dead? It must be another mech, but did he plant other explosives? Blocking issue? Yeah this whole page left me confused about the layout of the place. I assume there were other people with V and P planting bombs?

pg 5 - I think I would like to know generally how many people were chasing after V and P.

pg 7 - I brushed over this part the first time I read it, like yeah something about an informant? It became clear later, but if we had a better idea of what happened, maybe focusing more on the parley, M, and the people taken away, this would have a heavier impact.

pg 10 + - I'm definitely more invested in this story now that we get a picture of what's going on. Sprinkling in some of these facts earlier could help the initial few pages. I get that we see the devastation of war first hand and its toll on the villagers, but since we don't really know the villagers or the stakes early on, it's hard to feel the impact of the death of P say for example.

pg 12 - I'm glad that V and M are both fleshed out enough to have understandable motivations and make very human choices. It helps with the suspension of disbelief.

The rest is great. Nice denouement. Good climax with the conversation. The scene where V meets up with the sister and children hit me right in the feels.

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I'm late to the game and you already have a lot of feedback! I was very engaged the whole time hardly made any notes. There was a strong voice, a lot of emotion on the main characters part, and clear goals, motivations and stakes.  I loved watching the V grapple with his actions and choices. 

I don't think I really have much to add. Like the others, I felt there was a disconnect between the two parts. However, I think others already went into detail about this. 

The one thing that I was on the fence about saying because it might be the opposite of what you want to do is I wanted to see what happens between V deciding not to shoot that Z boy and then going to confront his bother-in-law. But that probably isn't necessary and would probably move this into novelette territory. 

Overall though, I really just enjoyed reading. 

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Thanks, All! 

On 4/9/2021 at 1:50 PM, kais said:

I think some of the old issues remain, such as burying the lede, waiting too long for emotional impact and real global motivations

Agreed.  And I think this is another issue where the length of the first scene is causing trouble.  And introducing some of that closer to the front (while shortening the first scene) is probably also going to help a little with the disconnect between the first and second scenes.

On 4/9/2021 at 11:28 PM, Ace of Hearts said:

The name P makes my mind immediately go to the title used for Ottoman commanders, which I'm assuming wasn't the intention?

Huh.  Nope.  Missed that. Which is a little surprising, since I usually overthink name origins and associations far too much.

On 4/9/2021 at 11:28 PM, Ace of Hearts said:

I'm guessing I'm not supposed to understand exactly what he was told, but I really have no clue what the boy was getting at. Because V clearly knows I'm wondering if I'm missing something. 

I'm still trying to figure out the balance on this.  I do want there to be a feeling V knows things the reader doesn't (why do I always do this to myself?), and that things aren't as straightforward as "The Z are the enemy. Holding them off until reinforcements arrive is the best choice to save the town".  But right now I don't think there are enough known details to provide the right contrast.  
I do think some of that will be clearer if I can do a better job early on of  introducing world-building details about the significance and stakes of our mech-sabotaging mission.  Going to try to get that nailed down better when I do a revision on this one. 

On 4/9/2021 at 11:28 PM, Ace of Hearts said:

Does M actually think that continuing to fight will save lives in the city? His line of reasoning doesn't make sense to me. And I don't think it needs to, necessarily, but I want V to call that out. 

M's story here is that they need to continue to push back until reinforcements arrive (in actuality, he's stalling to pick a strategic time to "surrender", get K and the boys back, and get the heck out of there).  But I think the reinforcements detail got dropped in the opening of their conversation when I switched some things around.  And is probably not stressed in the mech sabotage scene as what they think they're achieving by destroying a couple mechs.  Ultimately, V should be placing a lot more hope in the idea of the reinforcements at the beginning.  He might not want anything to do with the inner cities, but if that's the only way they're going to survive, he's willing to rely on those soldiers to come and protect the little border town they've claimed. Even if it's just to stabilize the weak point of the pass and they don't actually care.

Some of that is given in the conversation between M and V, but there's no reason for it to all be there when some of the motivational details are more important to have up front.

On 4/9/2021 at 11:28 PM, Ace of Hearts said:

I think the start can be cut down pretty substantially. P dying is the first big thing that happens and I think we could honestly get there in 2-3 pages (starting with when things start to go wrong) to set the tone and atmosphere right off the bat. Though I do still want V to worry about him beforehand since that's what makes the death impactful. Also I think some of M's grandstanding can potentially be cut, which is easy to do if V calls him out on his BS faster. 

On 4/9/2021 at 11:39 PM, julienreel said:

I'm definitely more invested in this story now that we get a picture of what's going on. Sprinkling in some of these facts earlier could help the initial few pages. I get that we see the devastation of war first hand and its toll on the villagers, but since we don't really know the villagers or the stakes early on, it's hard to feel the impact of the death of P say for example.

A lot of this is what I'll be trying to do when I get to revisions on this.  Some of the details introduced in the conversation between M and V probably need to be at the front to clarify the setting, the purpose and stakes of the mech mission, etc.  Which then (in theory) should clean up some of the roundabout aspects of the conversation scene and give the reader a better idea of what's going on (or what they should think is going on) going in to that scene.  

13 hours ago, shatteredsmooth said:

The one thing that I was on the fence about saying because it might be the opposite of what you want to do is I wanted to see what happens between V deciding not to shoot that Z boy and then going to confront his bother-in-law. But that probably isn't necessary and would probably move this into novelette territory. 

Hah. Yeah.  I went back and forth a little on this as well, because it is a sudden jump at the moment.  I would like to give a little more detail on where he was between scenes, just so that it's not as jarring, but I haven't figured out if there's a good way to do that without losing some of the tension surrounding what V may or may not know in the second scene. Most specifically, I haven't figured out a way to do it while conveniently neglecting what he finds out about his nephews and K while there.  And I am too attached to the "are they dead or not? Huh? Well are they?" ambiguity to abandon it quite yet :)  
I'll probably check in on what makes sense in that direction once I've streamlined the other things a little better.   

Thanks so much, everyone!  Working on Price of Peace revisions now, to hopefully start submitting through that again in a couple weeks, but all of the thoughts here will be really helpful for when I pull this off the backburner to clean it up.

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