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2022-08-22 - Minifyre - 4G Ch1 (G, V) - 4,628 words


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Welcome to RE! Self pub is a big step, so congrats! Here's hoping we can help you polish it up.


I think you have an interesting idea here, but I'm not sure what the story is. The first chapter wanders. At first it is set up as a teen bullying/fitting in/coming of age story, and ends with a ghost battle. The two events don't seem related, either. I have a lot of questions and there are a lot of logic and blocking jumps that tripped me up. I think with a little tweaking this could be a strong opening though.

As I go

- pg1: fighting the ghost ---> fight A ghost, maybe? Otherwise I feel like I should know who this ghost is and it's only the first sentence

- I think the first paragraph has too many unrelated topics. It started strong with the sketch but ended on clothes, and the two don't seem to be related

- pg 2: Stupid hairspray!" <-- there's a lot of jumping around in these paragraphs that is making the narrative hard to parse. It feels like every third sentence or so is missing and I'm having a hard time following along

- pg 2: a dark-skinned senior <-- general rule these days is to note all skin tones, or note none. Otherwise you're doing an unintentional white default

- pg 4: afro bobbed up and down with every stride. Her spotless white: backpack, jersey, and sneakers contrasted with the girl's skin, muddied socks, and the faded fences in the foreground against the cloudy sky beyond. <-- spending a lot of time on J's features and no one else's, and it comes off as because she is black

- pg 5: 'spring' isn't a proper noun

- pg 6: is the first time the reader has gotten a real solid hood (the ghost info). I think some of the previous pages could be condensed to speed up getting to the inciting incident (which I assume is coming up shortly)

- pg 8: getting buried in mundane again. Still looking for that inciting incident

- pg 9: so is her mom blind? Is O albino?

- pg 10: if this demon is such a problem, how did her mother not know about it before? This attack seems very random and plot convenient. Why now, especially if O has known about it for a while? What prompted this attack? What is the demon's motivation?

- the switch to first person has me very confused

- ohh, it's a diary. That notation should go probably before it switches to first person

- there's a lot of pop culture in there that might not resonate with readers. Particularly things like the Smallville reference (great show!)

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Hello and welcome to RE! Hopefully we can give you some insight for self publishing.

Generally, I agree with @kais. There are a lot of moving parts in this chapter, but not a lot happens until the last 5 pages, and then it's sort of a blur of action. I think focusing int he first few pages on some of the themes that will come out later will help solidify things. Right now, the narrative is a bit unfocused and I had trouble following the reasons for the hood, the hairspray, and whether superheroes exist. Then a giant ghost comes out of nowhere and things take a more Buffy-like aspect. Bringing these two themes closer together will help.


Notes while reading:

pg 1: I thought S and C were supposed to be the hero and ghost for a moment!

pg 2: Things are wandering here a bit and I'm not sure what O's goal is. There are a lot of names here, but aside from O feeling generally bad about things, I don't know why.

pg 3: Are J and O friends? J was introduces as sort of a passerby at first.

pg 3: "Who got you?" 
--Not sure what this is referring to. Red coming out of what? Does this have to do with her green hair? I thought she did that on purpose.

pg 4: "they'd quickly identify her subject"
--this took me a couple reads to realize she's referring to the sketch that she hasn't drawn yet. I'm not sure this paragraph adds much.

pg 5: "the archangel with whom she..."
--wait, then who was "wade" from the first page? I was assuming that was her last name.

pg 6: "She had no wish to hear about The Exterminator"
--this is the first real bit of something plotlike we've come across. I'm not yet sure where the story is going.

pg 6: "It would crackle if the ghost showed up."
--and something else new...

pg 7: "Drawing in class for a whole month at the end of the year..."
--I'm still not quite sure what's going on yet. There's a lot of description, but I don't know the aim of the story.

pg 9: "The ghost giant was here!"
--I think some more buildup with her hair would be useful before this point. It all sort of comes out, and then there's a ghost, and it's a lot.

pg 11: "She glanced at her mom's shattered legs."
--What? When did this happen?

pg 12: "Perhaps the reverse is true, like in Arcanum."
--I'm not sure what this means.
--also very confused what's going on here. Why is there a braille line?
--okay, this is a dairy or something?

The last bit of the chapter is pretty confusing.

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Hi, welcome to RE and thanks for sharing,

I'll email you tracked comments in the file, but here are the headlines from me.

Generally, I like a lot about this. You've got an interesting character there, and she is in an interesting setting, has plenty of conflicts and challenges, which is always good. The narrative itself flows pretty well, I think, however there are issues, and my reaction to hearing that you're going to publish this year was one of... trepidation.

I found that there were a lot of instances where I was confused, where statements weren't clear, or weren't supported by enough explanation for me to know what was going on, and why someone acted in a particular way. Examples, and other comments as I read through:

A) I like the first line, but it could be smoother, the first paragraph too, but both engaged me, raised my curiosity.

B) I like what you did with the different types of mobile phone.

C) "Hood down, miss!" - Why does the driver say that? No context and no explanation.

D) The bus zig-zags off down the street, then there are various actions described from the bus, after it's already off down the street. Continuity issue there.

E) "Who got you?" - There is no context for, or explanation of J's question, and the reply from O "All of them" - I don't understand it. It's not at all clear from the first page what happened to her, and it's critical I think for the reader to understand that, because the 'tagging' which I barely got when she sort of explains to her mom, underscores the whole emotional state of the main character in the first chapter.

There's a tendency for inexperienced writers--and forgive me, I don't know how experienced you are, and I'm not exactly Terry Pratchett over here, but take it as a general comment, please--to hide things from the reader, thinking that it adds mystery. Of course books need some degree of mystery to permit reveals at dramatic moments, but the things that are hidden should be limited to the right things, not information that aids the reader's understanding of the character's situation, or the nature of the world, at the start of the story. I've been there myself more than once, plenty of times, hiding details thinking I was creating mystery, but all I was doing was hampering the readers' ability to gain a foothold in my story and my world. In this case, I would tell the reader exactly what has happened to O on the page 1. Not all the detail, but the basics, her hair got sprayed by a bunch of mean classmates. That really would have helped me feel I had a solid footing at the start of this story, and make I easier for me to accept other details.

F) "Perhaps The Machine was human after all." - Not a clue what this means. Is the machine a robot, a computer, a TV character? I don't have any frame of reference for the statement, so I don't know how to understand it, all I can do is more on a hope it's not important. I've heard advice from various sources in relation to mystery, and the thing is that, if the character knows the information, and we're in close first person POV, the the character is deliberately not thinking about something that they are intimately familiar with, which gets frustrating quickly for me as a reader.

G) Characters studying themselves in the mirror is a major cliché nowadays. I know the example here isn't a lingering, detailed description, which is the most heinous kind of example, but it did enough to make me roll my eyes.

H) "If today's experiment panned out" - No idea what this refers to. I kept it in mind for the rest of the chapter, but saw no other reference to experimentation, that I noticed anyway. And if it's sitting in the diary entry, well, more on that later.

I) Where does her sister go? J is O's sister, right? J just disappears from the chapter, and I don't know where she went. That bothered me for at least a page.

J) I found it really odd that her mom didn't talk to her when O arrived. In fact, the mom appears from nowhere. There is something strange about the blocking when O walks into that room. I would have expected the mom to like mouth something to her daughter, like with you in a minute, or some such. I didn't get from the narrative that the mom was finishing off a line of something, or whatever. I felt to me like the two just ignored each other. Later, we find out that the mom is blind, but I absolutely needed to know that at the first point of encounter. Seems to my another example of withholding intrinsic information from the reader in a way that only cause confusion, for me, at least.

K) "O set it aside with shaking hands." - Why?! We're in her head, and nothing is gained by withholding from the reader for almost a page that the letter is from the school. That's what causes O's reaction, but I'm left confused for a page not understanding why she is so affected by an envelope, when O knows it right away, but keeps it from me, even though I'm in her head.

L) I live in Scotland, I know almost nothing about the US education system, so most if the stuff about the schooling I find difficult to understand.

M) Prime example of how I was left confused by the narrative in various places: "They were transfer papers. Her hair was ruined, but maybe she could still salvage the day. All she had to do was ask." - First sentence, okay, I get that, it's a clear indication of what is in the envelope, and that's good. The hair, I've been struggling with that for most of the chapter, because it's not clear (IMO) at the beginning. Also, hair and transfer papers are not (directly) related, so the line from one sentence to the next is tenuous. Second sentence makes sense in itself, but then the third... ask who? Ask them what? I think there are well into double figures of instances where I can see there's an assumption made that I understand a particular statement, but I don't, so I feel I'm left behind by the narrative.

N) "She tried not to think about her long white hair being marred" - If this had been on page one, instead of page nine, I would have had a crystal clear understanding of what had happened to her, which underscores her emotional state for the whole first part of the chapter (before the attack), and I would have been much less confused.

O) I'm at page 10, and I'm suffering a lot of confusion by this point, but then... the action kicks off. I think the action is (generally) excellent. It has energy, and tension, and it's dynamic, not without confusion in places (for me), but really clips along at an excellent pace. I think there are places it could be improved. I thought mom's injuries were undersold, almost conversational in the way they're described, but I really was hauled through these closing pages by bright, colourful, energetic passages.

P) "The rusty blade" - It seems hugely unlikely to me that a letter opener would be rusty. But my biggest problem is that the letter opener is described in great detail when it appears, how it's engraved with the lion, the witch and the wardrobe, but there is no mention at all of it being rusty. In fact, it's described as intricately engraving, but rust would quite quickly obliterate fine detail, I feel.

Q) Page 12 of 14 and things are still rattling along in the action sequence. There are pieces of wording that I think are redundant or contradictory, which I've tagged in the tracked comments emailed. E.g. it's stated that the rain the roof drowns out everything, but a sentence (or two) later it's stated that O still can hear "the music and the storm", so, the music is not drowned out then: contradiction. Details like this are so important for retaining reader engagement, and reader trust.

R) The mirror is described variously as cracked, shattered and fractured. To me, each of these things is completely different from the others: cracked, maybe one of two cracks; fractured, not too far different, I suppose, although it suggests to me pieces have fallen out; shattered, the whole things is a pile of shards on the floor.

S) I think the diary entry reads very convincingly as a diary entry, good job with that. I would strongly recommend putting the title at the top of that section, as I had no idea what I was reading at first, and there's no need for any reader to be disoriented. The title at the top is perfectly standard. But, it's just a big old info dump. There is a lot of technical detail, but I'm barely engaged with the character and the story at this point. By the end of the chapter, having just had a pretty satisfying (once polished) action section, I want to move into the next chapter and feel that I have an understanding of the world and what the main character is dealing with. What I'm not keen to receive is big pile of technical information that I don't know what to do with. I feel that it just distances me from the world, makes me feel there is so much I don't know, and do I really want to get into all this?

Overall, I liked a lot of this, but I just want it to be much clearer. There's no good reason that I can see to hide any of the things that are hidden from the reader by the main character, whether it's deliberate or not, but that aside, I think there is an exciting and satisfying (probably, early days) story here, with an interesting protagonist.

When you talk about it being published soon, how many edits have you done? Who all has read it? If I'm honest, I think it needs probably another two or three edits (two plus a proofread?), based on the first chapter. Usually, the first chapter is the one that is the tightest, because folks tend to go over projects multiple times before they are finished, and therefore the first chapter gets the most edits.

Just curious. It's an interesting read, and I think it deserves to be tighter and clearer before it gets out there. The whole series (I'm presuming it's series, because everything's a series nowadays) stands and falls on the first book.

Thanks for subbing :)

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Thanks for all the feedback, everyone! Your comments have highlighted issues I hadn't considered & problems I couldn't put into words—much appreciated.

Since the last draft, I believe the pendulum swung too far toward sensory details, especially in the middle, at the cost of progression. Going forward, I'll prioritize clarity[1] and revealing relevant, especially plot-related, information at a more consistent pace[2].

@Robinski, I'm in complete agreement that the manuscript needs at least 2-3 more edits[3] & I'm shooting for a cleaner copy upon completion! Thus far, this chapter has been edited five times[4], and a family member has read everything through in its entirety once[5]. From their feedback, I've restructured things to be more satisfying on a macro level but felt that things weren't improving on a micro/chapter level between drafts. Thus here I am. 

I'm glad you all made it through and think that there's at least some potential here ;) Thanks again for your time & help!

[1] In part, by cutting uninteresting mysteries (i.e., those whose reveals work better at the beginning) because they are frustrating & pointless (attempted summary of Robinski's point).
[2] e.g., streamlining scenery & main character descriptions to make room plot thoughts
[3] With potentially more for the first chapter to make sure I start out on the right track—fear not, I'll seek advice from other reading groups to avoid spamming the same thing over and over again here!
[4] Mostly incremental grammar & wording tweaks.
[5] Unfortunately, not many in my life are interested in YA.

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I'm super late getting to this, so my apologies. 

My overall reaction to this is that based on the first chapter alone, I'm not quite sure what kind of story to expect. It set up a lot for being a story about dealing with bullies, but then there was the ghost fight at the end that felt kind of random and tacked on. While you certainly can have a story that is both about dealing with bullies and fighting ghosts, I think there needs to be some kind of smoother integration of the two narratives. The balance between the two feels off. And part of that is because while this was an exciting ghost fight, I'm not sure if it was an inciting incident or not and I'm not sure what / how it sets up for the paranormal plot element. However, I feel like not knowing what the rest of the book is about, I can't really make concrete suggestions for how to fix the first chapter. Though it looks like the others did give some detailed feedback.

I love YA, especially spooky YA with ghosts, so I'm hoping you decide to submit more of this story. 

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