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20131007 - andyk - To Dream (V)


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This is a fantasy short story I've been working on. Looking forward to reading what you all think of it - it's a while since I've been organised enough to send anything for critique, so I could do with some input from outside my own head.


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Overall, that was a well written story, good job.

Were the family ghosts actually real or just a halucination? I imagine your mind could play lots of tricks on you after chopping off your own arm, which is when i began to question the ghosts actually talking, but even at the beginning he was suffering from grief, lonliness, and malnutritions at the beginning, so maybe he imagined his need to be there. Hunger Games really made me question the view points of crazy people.

"desperate wheedling"--that phrase brought me out of the story because it seems oxymoronic. I've never thought of wheeling as something that can be done desperately. I was expecting to read "pleading".

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I liked the concept of this, but I don't think it's suited to a short story, or at least not one this short.


The sense of Pyrus' failure, and then triumph, would have been stronger if we knew more about the worldbuilding behind it.  From the reader viewpoint, his choice is obvious--why even bother with sacrifice to spirits who obviously aren't doing anything?  Everyone else in the town has stopped doing it.  Also, we never learn what the Great Walk is, why it matters, or why the whole town is deserted.


I was wondering the whole time why he would sacrifice food for the ghosts that he could be eating himself.  If he dies, then he can't sacrifice, thus the first priority must be to stay alive, even if the ghosts get a meager sacrifice that day.


The problem with this sort of alternate culture and values is that you need to make us believe with Pyus that the sacrifice is the right thing to do, even with all it costs him.  I'm not sure that's suitable for a short story, because there's not enough time to get the necessary information across to keep the resolution from falling flat.
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I liked how this story was written, but it was a few pages of interesting stuff and then it fizzled.


I think the problem here is what others have said, that there's no real weight to what Pyrus chose to do. In the modern world, we're extremely used to doing our own thing and not thinking ourselves beholden to spirits or higher powers. In many ways, that's alien to our thinking. Thus, at the beginning, where Pyrus feels an obligation to perform the sacrifices, the story is more interesting, because it's further from our experience. The fear and terror of being beholden to a spiritual power is not something most of us have experienced. Walking away from the idea is. Thus, the story suffered for it. This is why the mythic treatment authors such as Stephen King and Neil Gaiman give the modern world is so powerful- it puts us in a place we're not used to being from a place that we think is familiar. This story did the opposite.


I assume the infection came from the cat scratches and the omnipresent germs that exist without modern cleaning techniques, but this wasn't clear.


A minor nitpick: In the second sentence, either change "pressing" to "pressed", or link the first sentence and this one together (linking would be better, IMO).

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks folks for the insightful comments.


It looks like this one has a more fundamental flaw than I'd realised. It's going to need some rethinking on my part about what the story's point is, which will make for an interesting and hopefully fun challenge.

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I really enjoyed this story, and even though I have some comments that are fairly elemental, I think it’s worth reviewing a putting out there, I think it reads really well.


[Page 1]


I'm completely on board here, the first sentence pulled me in, the first paragraph sets up the (apparent) situation very succinctly, and the rest of the first page gives me a strong feeling for the setting and end of the second paragraph I have a nice sense of character. I think this is a strong introduction.


[Page 2]


The use of the word ‘might’ implies to me that he shouts out loud, but I'm not sure if that's case from the context. If he is shouting I think it should be more explicit, if not, I'm not sure ‘might’ is the right word there.


[Page 3]


I always think that scenes and descriptions of taking a heart out of a body imply that it is an easy thing, like plucking an apple from a tree, whereas I imagine it must require quite a bit of cutting or muscle and blood vessels to free it from the chest cavity. I don’t know about gargoyles of course, but given the description of the tools and Pyrus’ training, I wondered if this passage would be more effective if there were just a handful of words in additional description of how difficult (or not) it is to actually remove the heart.


[Page 4]


I’ll admit to being shaken at the knowledge that he sacrificed his brother and sister, any sympathy I had for him and his situation has taken a dent and I'm waiting now for an explanation as to why this might have been a morally acceptable thing to do.


[Page 5]


Will readers from outside the UK know what a bramble is? They find out on this page that they are berries, but they are mentioned earlier.


[Page 6]


Lovely deft jibe in the exchange over the cat and the question ‘why?’


[Page 7]


I suspected that it must be the case that there was a rationalisation behind the sacrifice of Pyrus’ brother, and now I can presume that it was the same for the sister.


I'm not keen on the reference to a chest being amputated even as something that is impossible, it feels a bit clumsy. I would rephrase that.


[Page 8]


I'm not sure you can ‘bring pride upon your people’ pride is between you and them. I think it’s a case of ‘earn (or illicit) your people’s pride’ or ‘bring honour upon your people’.


The extended and intermingled metaphors comparing his mother to the cat in various ways, but also referencing the crow are effective, I thought.


[Page 10]


I like the line about going down (dying) trying to live.


[Page 11]


He seemed to reach the decision to stop protecting his family quite easily given how long he appears to have been doing it. I appreciated that he was in crisis, but I would have looked for maybe another sentence where he struggles with this. The only impression I have of his family is a cruel mother and a sister who didn’t seem to be much better. Why would he spend so long ensuring their protection?


[Page 12]


This is a good story, I really enjoyed it. For me it was the best writing of the various pieces of yours that I have read, but one thing stuck out for me at the end, which was ‘Hang on, what about the sister?’ On Page 4, you say what I interpreted as he sacrificed his brother and sister. Now I realise that I must have read that wrong, and that it is part of coming to manhood that he makes a sacrifice along with his brother and sister – but would that not imply that they were all the same age – which presumably isn’t the case? My assumption that the reference on Page 4 was to him sacrificing his sister as well (as some stage) was confirmed, in my mind at least, when he did in fact sacrifice his brother.


So now I am left with a major question, what about the sacrifice of the sister? By the end, I'm assuming it didn’t happen in which case I think the reference on Page 4 should be clarified.


All in all excellent story, just the sort of thing I would want to read if I was shelling out for an anthology of shorts. If anything, I think it could stand to be longer, because I was really enjoying what felt like a pseudo-Romanic setting, and there were hints at some interesting background in terms of Crastus being a general, for example.


I must admit I did think of ‘127 Hours’ when he amputated his arm, just for a few moments, but it did bring me out of the story briefly. I wonder if you could substitute his lower leg for the arm to get away from that. It would make his embarking on the Great Walk all the more poignant. Just a thought.

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