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Reading Excuses Scholomancer Chapter 20, 21 and 22 3208 words (L,S)


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Robert Renfield has betrayed his Master Dracula and left him at the bottom of the ocean. Unaware of this development, however, the monster hunters of Westenra continue the hunt for Dracula and his vampires. Their top agent, Stephanie Van Helsing, suffers from baffling visions shortly before she is framed by the murder of her colleague. On the run, she manages to find Renfield, but both are attacked by Renfield's lycanthropic handler Bannister on the full moon. After trapping Bannister in a train car and surviving the night, both realize Stephanie's visions are linked to the Scholomance, an ancient ritual which first gave Dracula supernatural abilities. 

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Notes as I read:



Pg 1: the paragraph about the buyer having Stephanie seemed very repetitive.


Pg 1: "cold metallic slab"

This doesn't say cell phone to me


Pg 2: Noting the founders of Westernra could have come at chapter 4, not chapter 20.  This would have given us more to go on at the beginning, but by this point, it's old information.


Pg 4: "Why am I even calling this guy?"

Exactly.  Calling up a list of serial offenders to find Stephanie seems...problematic.  I'm sure he doesn't need all 15 and the necrophiliac sex offender certainly is beyond a poor decision.  I don't believe he would really call these people up.


The section in the farmhouse was fine.  The scenes with Just Renfield and Stephanie continue to be good, and we get more information on the monster council and what they are doing.  Did several days pass here?  There was one mention of this ("Every morning, Stephanie expected the worst."), but I wasn't sure that was what you meant.


Pg 14: Stephanie family and the Bible.  I would think the Van Helsing family would not be fundamentalists.  If they are really directly descended from the original Abraham Van Helsing, their family line is probably highly educated, skeptical, and not prone to having religious family members.


Pg 16: the chocolate covered flies were a nice touch.


I'm interested to see the Council and learn more about the opposing side of the monster hunting business.

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Thanks Mandamon. I definitely need to show the passage of time. I was also beginning to question if these serial offenders were too much. Thanks for confirming it with me.


The Van Helsings are definitely not fundamentalists, but I wanted to show their skepticism in this passage. The reason Stephanie's sister was more prone to fundamentalism towards the end of her life is explained later.


Thanks again for the feedback! 

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Chapter 20: Good setup of further trouble down the road with parties of ex-hunters being brought in the fray. These people have the knowledge and skill to do what needs to be done and can operate off the Westenra books. I also like that you show that not everyone makes it as a hunter and what happens to some of them.


Chapter 21: This read as a basic ‘what’s going to happen next’ chapter with the setup of having to go to the council. Interesting show of Bannister’s power in human form. That’s something to remember.


Chapter 22: The start of this chapter was a bit confusing time wise, since I don’t think that she’s been there for more than a day, yet the first sentence starts with ‘every morning’. Thinking a little more on it I think you probably mean that life hasn’t gone well for her the last couple days and she’s referring to that rather than captivity by Renfield. Still confusing though.


Banter: I enjoyed the banter between Stephanie and Renfield.


Irving: I’m liking this guy less and less, and that’s fine since right now he’s the actual antagonist. He had a good idea using former hunters to find Stephanie and get her away from Renfield and get her under his control. Bad idea to use the crazy ones though. That last guy is going to be a problem. My prediction right now: the crazy one is going to find Stephanie, tries to mess with her, Renfield is going to save her and they bond over the encounter. I hope you won’t go down that road, since it’s a bit of a cliché (and I don’t want to be right about this).


Council of Others: I’m having a hard time believing that someone as high up in Westenra, and as a Van Hellsing, would know nothing of a monster council. I suppose the council is that good at keeping hidden for so long…with nary a rumor spreading, with no one ever defecting for amnesty, or someone dropping names, or someone threatening a hunter with retribution from the council.


Bi-polar Renfield: I can’t get a handle on this guy. In chapter 21 he’s all weak and subservient to Bannister, like he’s really afraid of the guy, even tied up. Then in chapter 22 he badmouths Bannister right to his face.

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I think you did a nice job moving the plot along without being boring. I disagree with Mandamon about the bounty hunters. Irving's thoughts after visiting the hospital gave me the impression he has become desperate enough to try anything. By the time he realizes his desperate move was a bad idea it is too late.


Pg3: I felt like the part explaining about the hunters is a little long and repetitious.


I felt like Stephanie's choices of contention with the bible were cliché. It made it seem like she has only a surface level knowledge of the bible. On the faith side you did a good job establishing why she hates religion, though I agree with Mandamon about the idea that the Van Helsings would most likely be moderate religiously.EDIT: I missed what rd said to mand. The out of place faith raises red flags, and if those red flags are explained in an interesting way it can be great. Now I'm excited to find out what happened to Steph's sister.

It also felt weird to me that she dismissed the bible as a fairy tale while in a house with a werewolf and a vampire's servant. If a vampire can turn into mist, a pillar of clouds guiding a group of people can take on a whole new meaning. 


I am excitedly awaiting the next chapters so I can find out what kind of monsters are on the Council, and what the Council does.

Edited by rohyu
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Thanks rohyu,


I appreciate the note about the part on page three being too long. I'm also glad you liked the part about the bounty hunters. I'm going to work out the bugs in the faith vs. religion theme in my next draft. I do think her contention comes off as trite and cliche. Thanks for the pointing that out though - now I know it definitely needs a lot of work. 

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This was pretty good for at least 2/3 of the chapters.


I enjoyed the Irving chapter the most, and felt like we were again getting a good view into his thought process. He's turning into one of the strongest POVs in the book. The only thing I dislike is that his POV is still trying to create false suspense by hiding things from the reader that Irving knows. There's still the Buyer, but now this mystery person on the phone who's going after Stephanie. Now I'm more curious about who he is than I am about whether he'll get to Stephanie before others do, but that's not as big of a payoff.


In Renfield's chapter, I was a little disappointed at first that we didn't get the transport of Bannister, but I think you handled it well. I don't feel like I'm missing anything. What I don't get is if Bannister had this great hideout for himself, why did he need Renfield at all? I don't see what Renfield would have done that he couldn't have planned for in advance?


The last chapter was my least favourite. There was overlap in the timeline between Renfield's chapter and Stephanie's but Stephanie's doesn't start the same way, and doesn't at all feel like it flows from Renfield's. It's a very clunky start. I also disliked her staunch criticism and dismissal of the bible (not for religious reasons, I'm not religious myself), but because it felt somewhat out of character. She hunts supernatural creatures for a living, from a line of people who do, and she spent the night with a werewolf, but she's going to dismiss everything in the bible as "a book of fairy tales"? Erg...


Some minor things I disliked:

Stephanie mentions "Rob Renfield" by name but I think that's the first time we hear it? It was jarring.

She also refers to him as "a madman, pure and simple", but I haven't seen that reflected in the story. He's always been intelligent and level-headed. He just likes to eat bugs...

I also felt like it was too easy to get her in the trunk again, as though her limbs should have gotten caught in the closing.

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Chapter 20

--In the last paragraph on page 2 you imply that Andy is a top agent, which we know he is not at this point.


--Who is Irving talking to? i feel like we should have a name rather then just this man. 


Other then that. it was a good chapter to me. I like Irving more but not more then the others yet.


Chapter 21

--It feel like Renfield is constantly revealing new information. I thought he spilled it all last chapter to Stephenie but then he says the wisdom of soloman and i'm like what he knows more...and what is that? 

Some nice build up here, and great banter at the end.


Chapter 22

--I get the feeling that the start overlaps with the end of the last chapter but as shrike mentioned they don't share the same dialogue so i assumed some time has passed and she is referring to a different argument..but that also doesn't fit quite right based on the reference in the dialogue.

--I find it interesting that Stephanie constantly refers to Renfield as insane, yet he clearly dosen't seem to be..it show he bias based on how she was raised. 


--chocolate flies..nice touch

--Great last line. (although i wonder if you need the non-italics part).


All in all a nice group of chapter that are building the tension to something. Looking forward to what that is. 

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Still enjoying the story, I like the pacing. Things are happening at a decent rate and a plot is emerging. There is loads of tension between the characters, I would like to see some real jeopardy from the pursuers now, and there is some promise of that with this rogue hunter that you’ve introduced, although I found him clichéd in his short introduction.


Now diving into the comments:


Chapter 20


I still feel that there are areas of ‘over-writing’ where the prose could be punchier. E.g. “The best hunters in the business were name brands in and of themselves.” Don’t know what the end of this sentence does, other than reduce the drama of Irving’s thought.


I enjoyed Irving’s recounting of the ‘way of the hunter’, as it were, and I think you might consider having it much further up front in the story, like Chapter 1 or 2. A lot of readers (I think) will have no idea about names like Harker (although hopefully almost all will have heard Van Helsing before).


I don’t understand why being paid to rescues someone would be seen as redemption by a hunter. It’s their job anyway.


I was disappointed by Irving’s attitude to Nietzsche, as it’s not one that I agree with, and given his position, I would have thought he would be able to see the parallels in it. Irving’s recollection of the quote is very awkward. It made me go and G**gle it, where I found “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster... for when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” I didn’t realise that the second part of this quote was the ‘abyss’ line, which I think is much more powerful.


Irving remains my favourite character. I think he has a much better conflict, or series of related conflicts, than anyone else in the story.


Irving’s thoughts ex-hunters panning out and not panning out are really confused. I quickly lost interest in this section. Then, suddenly, he’s talking to someone? That felt very disjointed, and when the narrative goes on to talk about this man’s background, I have nothing to relate it to, because Irving’s making the call, and his selection of the man was not shown.


I found the unknown hunter’s reactions clichéd. They reminded me of various psychopathic villains from bad 90’s cop movies. “I like them cold. I like it when they fight back.” In fact, I found the whole end of the chapter annoying. Why did Irving even phone this guy, he must have better prospects than this, surely?


Chapter 21


I find the opening confusing. Why does Renfield stutter, is he scared of Bannister? The stutter makes him sound so weak, and thereby hard to route for, I think. And suddenly Stephanie is smoking? It felt like a writer-ly intervention, but I don’t see the point of it.


Renfield paused for a moment. Then he spoke, “You ever wonder...” – really unnecessary.


steer their sires” – huh? I don’t understand.


I like Bannister breaking out of the handcuffs. I did not expect it, and it was dramatic, nicely judged. But what the heck is the key and where did that come from? Is the key to the cuffs? I didn’t think so. I felt confused and possibly cheated if it was a rabbit from a hat moment, considering we’ve been in Renfield’s company for some time and I don’t remember any reference to the key.


Nice line to end the chapter, but in the prelude to that, if Stephanie is on the other side of the door, then Renfield cant’s see her and the description of her sounds like it’s in her viewpoint. I found that section of description confusing.


Chapter 22


What she didn’t expect is was so much awkward uncomfortably (???) in the farm house” – not make sense.


Stephanie was never good at leaving things alone” – lol.


“...surprisingly serious tone” – Why is it surprising, she’s rummaging around in his bag.


still folded across her chest” – I find the repetition phrases (like this) and of words close together, awkward.


What’s “Howdy Doodie”?


slanted eyes” – I think you mean narrowed eyes?


of feet behind meant Renfield wasn’t far behind” – like this.


Or lap dog if it’s a full moon” – lol.


She wouldn’t have been surprised if Bannister tore out Renfield’s throat on the spot” – mixing tenses. ‘had torn out’ would work with ‘wouldn’t have’. I know, I'm straying into detail again – I can’t help it, this stuff bugs me.


Who knew combining my favorite thing and my least favorite thing could be such an epic fail” – I don’t see the sense in this statement – it’s bound to be a fail, the logic is cock-eyed, and ‘chocolate-covered’ should be hyphenated.


A lot of the phrasing around her walking to the car and his eyes being on her is awkward and confusing.


The thing about the chocolate flies felt out of place to me, like it was dropped in to shock, but just ends up having no context. It felt like a writerly thing to do – in the sense that the writing should be invisible, imho.

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Thank guys!


@shrike76: I'm really struggling to bring in the religious themes myself. I am personally religious, but the last thing I want this to be is preachy and one-dimensional. I was trying to step out of my comfort zone, but clearly I need to figure out a better way to integrate it into the story.


@Kammerite & Robinski: I'm wondering if Irving doesn't need a Watson character to reveal these things to. It feels weird to just have them thinking these things, and he's mostly isolated though the first 3rd or so of the story. 

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Hmm, you could pair him up with the guy (Andy?) who he thinks is hopeless. That might produce an interesting conflict.

Yeah. The only problem is whoever I pair him up with will probably know something is up, especially when he starts hiring bounty hunters left and right. :) 

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Ok, I thought it was instead of the bounty hunters, i.e. Renfield going after them himself. But he could hire the bounty hunters in secret and it puts him in conflict with them too, if they run into each other while he's with Andy.


Just spit-balling here.

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Hmmm . . . . that might work. One of the criticisms I've noticed is that Bannister and Renfield's antagonistic relationship doesn't seem to be working. Maybe Bannister and Renfield could be sent after Stephanie (or the scroll) when she goes rogue, and two could be more or less partners in the beginning. What do you think?

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Wow - that seems like a huge change. So, Renfield would have been taken in as a defector essentially, but they would not know whether they could really trust him?


I realise that I'm tromping all over good critiquing here having made a suggestion in the first place. Thinking about the change now, I guess that it wouldn't be fundamental to what's happened so far. Renfield could be out there are a double agent, I suppose.

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Thanks for helping me brainstorm this. Bannister is the Council's chief agent - something I should probably explain better anyway. Renfield is a defector, but not a particularly trustworthy one. When the Scholomance starts to come into play, Bannister consults with him a little. Then Stephanie goes rogue and captures him, which could be the reason why Bannister is caught into the full moon - he's trying to rescue Renfield when the change hits, endangering both Stephanie and Renfield in the process. 

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@shrike76: I'm really struggling to bring in the religious themes myself. I am personally religious, but the last thing I want this to be is preachy and one-dimensional. I was trying to step out of my comfort zone, but clearly I need to figure out a better way to integrate it into the story.


It's your book, and it doesn't have to conform to anyone else's definition of reality. If God is an actual presence in this book, or if he's an entity that makes his presence felt in other ways, then I think it's perfectly valid. Especially if the Scholomance is an actual thing taught by the actual Devil, then I wouldn't see it as preachy, because in this book's world it's made clear that God and the Devil are two real things that exist. Even atheists should be able to enjoy it as fiction (I'm an atheist, and I have no problem with the mythos of Constantine or The Fifth Element, and I thought the Force in Star Wars was more interesting before midichlorians came around to ruin it with science). Again, I only mentioned it because it seemed out of character for Stephanie to be doing it, since she's seen all of this stuff first hand.


For your other point, about Irving, I don't think a Watson character is necessary. If you add a secondary character for the express purpose of Irving going all "As you know, Bob" then I think that will show, and it will not be enjoyable reading. If we're in Irving's POV then it's enough for Irving to know it and mention it in the opportunities that he has, and it's even appropriate for him to think about them in certain situations. He has lots of opportunities when he's on the phone with the Buyer, or his hitman, or just worrying about stuff. The problem is I don't know what it is that he hasn't revealed yet, so I couldn't suggest when would have been an appropriate time to have brought it up. I'll keep an eye out for it in future submissions, and if something catches my eye I'll be sure to mention it.

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