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2/8/16 - Eisenheim - On Falcon's Wings v.2 - 6093 words


Eisenheim

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Alright, you've seen this before, at least some of you have.  I've done edits from the last set of comments and just for wordsmithing.  This go round, I'm most interested in anything that feels superfluous or too spare, still trying to dial in the right final length for the piece

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Thanks for sending in the revised version! I can't remember what is new and improved, so i might note the same things. But here it goes:

 

- I still think of Idris Elba when I read "Idris".

 

- Like the relationship between Idris and Alissa in this draft. 

 

- I think more needs to be made of the jackals being demon-touched. It's a great moment that ups the stakes. 

 

- I still feel like there needs to be something more between Idris and Alissa at the very end, some sort of payoff between the two characters. 

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I disagree it feels like it's off-genre. If the romance is crucial to the plot, I think some closure is necessary to wrapping it up. And it doesn't need to be an epilogue - it can be a final interaction between the characters, immediately after the conclusion of the action, just to tie the story up. 

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The first paragraph is easier to follow

 

pg 2: I like the note that Siad Amak's power still protected them.

 

pg 3: "The baking air was a blanket, wrapping her in comfort like a mother’s arms.   It was not enough."

--the baking air was not enough?  I'm not sure what the last sentence is referring to.

 

pg 5: "As he spoke, a web of fine cuts opened all over his skin.  Smoke trickled from his mouth.

--This shows what Idris is doing a lot better

 

pg 9: the fight with the jackals still seems long, especially compared to the stone lion and the worshipers.

 

pg 9: "Idris was pale and shake from bleeding"

shaking?  shook?

 

pg 9: "Siad Amak’s amulets still hid them"

--but the amulets hadn't hid them from the stone lion and the jackals.  Or was that because the demons had seen them?

 

pg 10: "An obsidian giant, taller than a tower, strode across the plain.  A few hills east, a great pine with silver needles and a trunk skinned with silent, screaming child faces sprouted to the sky."

I like the extra touches with making more demons visible in the desert.

 

pg 10: "It wrapped him from shoulder to hip like a cage of bone and silver"

I hadn't realized it was this big.  Did it fold up while he carried it?

 

pg 12:"A great falcon with wings that reached the horizon, the sun its blazing eye.  The greats wings beat with a wind to send ships speeding across the wave, or shatter them with its strength.  "

--"great wings"

--"great" twice in two lines

--Also, because of the title, we know this is the one the second it appears, which removes some of the tension.  It's very close to the reveal that this is the correct god, but still I thought I'd mention it.  I wonder if there's a way to bring the reveal and the climax even closer together.

 

I agree that there shouldn't be much more at the end or else it will make the story drag.  However, the conclusion is still almost abrupt--only two sentences long, and just after they manage to trap Bash-Irem.  There's no time for my tension to dissipate.  Maybe just one or two sentences to give a hint of what is to come?  Will the god protect them?  Will Alssia become a priestess? will the people of the city greet them with open arms at this new god?

 

All in all, still a very good story, and I think the edits make it better.  There's a lot more good description of how the demons look and act.  Just the few things I noted above.  The main things I still find pull me out a little are the length of the fight with the jackals, especially compared to the stone lion, and the abruptness of the ending.

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In late, out early. The story's about them going to get a new god, and you come in as late as possible which is good. You want to go out as close to their success as possible, which you also did. If you're going to add romance, it needs to come in after the main goal is outlined, and be finished before they achieve their other goal, or conclude at the same time. I would not add any romantic denouement to this story, and I'm satisfied with the way you did conclude it.

 

On that note, I would suggest that leading with a paragraph of backstory might not be ideal, and you can jump right in to the quest itself. They need a new god and Alssia has been chosen. You can put the older god's defeat in later at some point when Alssia reflects upon it.

 

I didn't go back to compare this with the first draft, and I don't know what's clearer to me because I've read it twice now, or what's clearer because you've made it that way.

I don't think it was as clear to me early on, the first time, that Siad Amak was a demon (rather than a god, or whether there was a difference at all) and that his power was still there to protect them from some of the demons. This is better now.

 

In this draft I also get a better sense that defeating the stone lion weakened Idris, which is something that was lacking the first time. Not enough that I'm not wondering why he didn't do it earlier (unless he needed the raiders to be bleeding?I wasn't sure how relevant that was). Still, it's better. What I still don't get is why Alssia was chosen to protect Idris, if this was the sort of thing they expected to encounter and she had no way of defeating it? As far as I can tell, by page 6 Idris could have easily gotten this far without her.

 

When Alssia takes out one jackal with her sling, is there a reason why the other jackals don't turn to feasting on their fallen companion if they're hungry? Seems like he'd be easy prey with his only real weapon (his bite) unavailable.

 

When they pass the jackals, and there's nothing left but demons, I wonder why they think that that makes them safer? To me that would be the most dangerous part of the journey wouldn't it? Or would this normally be dangerous, but it's safe for them because of their god's remaining protection?

 

All in all, it feels a bit tighter and cleaner than the first version. I think you've done pretty well. You could probably still shave off a few hundred words.

 

P2 - "from within that ragged heartbeat."

P5 - "fowling fouling her swing"

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This is the sort of specific help I'm usually loathe to provide. When you get to the point of shaving down a story and doing line edits, any advice you get from other people will be advice based on how the individual sentences and the overall story sound to their ear.

If you and I were both to take this story and pare off 15%, I bet we'd cut a very different set of words, and the result would be something that would sound very different and that's what we usually would call your writing voice.

In general, look for places where you're saying the same thing twice in different ways, or where you have long passages of description, or where you're stating the obvious. Look for places where you can combine sentences and make them work more efficiently as one.

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Then that's as short as the story gets. I think it's okay, I can't say that there was anywhere where I felt that it dragged on heavily. My feeling that it was long in general may have stemmed from having read it twice in two weeks.

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Then that's as short as the story gets. I think it's okay, I can't say that there was anywhere where I felt that it dragged on heavily. My feeling that it was long in general may have stemmed from having read it twice in two weeks.

I think you can save quite a few, depending on how hard you want to be. I'm always reminded of Brandon's account of Niven & Pournelle being told by the publisher of Mote in God's Eye (great story) that they needed to cut 10% (or was it 5%?), so they cut 10% of the words on every page. If there's a will, there's a way. Edited by Robinski
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Sure, but there's no reason to cut this for the sake of cutting.  Most magazine that would take it now take up to 7,500 words, most that wouldn't cut off at 4,000.  Unless it's dragging, there's not a particular reason to be ruthless in cutting it, hence why I've been asking for people's thoughts on where it feels like too much.

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Hmm, I dunno. Some people look at the length of something before committing to it. I think some folks on here will even read the long submission first, or last.

 

Even without that, I think length is indicative of pacing and readability. If you can take 1,000 words out of a 7,000 word story without affecting the story, so purely in phrasing, grammar and word choice, I think it's good practice to do so. Not to mention good practise for when one does need to cut to make a limit. I feel it makes for more disciplined writing.

 

I won't send my comments if you don't want to see them, though. I'm not wanting to be an arse about it, I just find it a fascinating exercise, so I'll finish it off. I'm afraid it results from me being so competitive in, basically everything, so it becomes a challenge.

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Okay, so here are some comments on second reading of the story. I can see some of the changes and I think it is certainly improved, clarified where there were questions, remaining a very enjoyable and satisfying story.

 

I stick by my comment about word count, which I think on one level is an expression of the tightness and directness of the story. I’ve gone through a pass of flagging what I thought were excess words or ‘baggy’ description, etc. which produced a word count of 5,732, saving 361 (basically 6%). I firmly believe that the suggestion don’t affect the story or the style in any material way, and are just a sort of ‘spring cleaning’ exercise.

 

Maybe you don’t want to see it, which is fine, but I wanted to at least satisfy myself about my earlier comment. Happy to email it if you want to see, also happy not to, as you desire  :)

 

Anyway, great story, I hope you’re going to submit it. I can see your second pro sale on the horizon (see what I did there? ;).

 

Here are my critiquing comments on Version 2, in a bit more detail this time.

 

------------------------------------------------------------------

 

(Page 1, para.1) – I think the clarity of which god is which could be improved.

 

(para.2) – “She was the best of the hunters,” – smoothness (I won’t bother with niceties, these are all suggestions of course!!). Also, why does she gasp at the sight of Idris?

 

(para.4) – “every breath of wind woke soft sounds from in it” – or maybe ‘coaxed soft sounds from it’.

 

(Page 3, para.2) – “thinking of gods and demons and their binding instead of the ground under them his feet” – I got snagged on this sentence and had to reread it. Also, “The hills on either side stilled the wind” – strictly speaking, the wind is still blowing and only blocked by the hills. Also, “The rains that had wept at Siad Amak’s fall” – rains are analogous to tears here, but the tears don’t weep, the shedder does.

 

(para.7) – “They wore all that would have gone into a temple if they had a god instead of kneeling to a demon.” – Awkward wording.

 

(Page 4, para.4) – “The absence of his arms was cold, despite the sun” – Awkward phrasing and a stretch to believe, especially in this moment of extreme urgency.

 

(para.5) – “She looked around. Was there anywhere they could lose the raiders?” – superfluous.

 

(Page 5, para.1) – “The demon was tearing at the hillside. As she looked, It finished carving a ledge and stood on it to reach higher.” – Not sure how much you want to pare down the word count, but there are opportunities with some excess words.

 

(Page 6, para.1) “The jackals were better hunters than the raiders had been,” – this is jarring as it’s the first mention of the jackals, so my first thought was, what jackals? Also, “was no longer so distracted thinking of how his smooth skin and clever fingers would feel if she reached out and touched him” – You mention the fingers a lot, it’s an unusual expression, I wonder if it’s stressed too much. I'm not sure if you think about touching someone’s fingers, which is sort of how this sounds.

 

(para.2) “pinning her down, and showing exposing her up” – or ‘revealing her’, more direct.

 

(para.3) “They’re following us, aren’t they?” – question.

 

(para.4) “They can smell the blood. It means something’s weak. That’s what they like.” – Obvious, let the reader have that one.

 

(para.9) “studying her like as they never had

 

(para.10) “She saw him thinking, and still he did not understand why she wanted him to go on” – I know what you mean, but seeing him thinking sounds odd to me.

 

(para.14) “a branch from one of the lonely cypress” – not that lonely, if it’s one of

 

(Page 7, para.3) “If he died here, could any of the other acolytes trap a god in time?” – Good point, bad judgement call on his part.

 

(para.6) “They didn’t recognize any threat as she whirled her sling around and sent a stone into one, though.” – not sure what this last is adding. Also, “The stone took the jackal in the lower jaw, and left it hanging by a rope of gristle at one side.” – obvious. Also, are jackals cannibalistic? I wondered if they wouldn’t stop and feed on fallen one – artistic license, I suppose. Also, “Sun and fear beat on her like a twin hammers.

 

(para.7) “He’d stumbled left, away from her, too far for a quick thrust” – Staying in the present is more immediate.

 

(Page 8, para.1) “she got her arm between its jaws” – really? That’s going to be v.painful and gives it an advantage, doesn’t it? No choice, I suppose. I'm struggling a bit to think she can hold off jackals...

 

(para.2) ...like here. “She kicked again and rolled to get a little space” – She kicks 5 jackals away? I guess they might scatter because she killed one. I think I have a different picture in my head of how this attack could go, they are all like 6 feet tall aren’t they. Somehow, it feels more like a fight with regular sized jackals.

 

(Page 9, para.1) - Would a 6 foot jackal be felled by a wee knife in the shoulder? I struggle with that.

 

(para.2) – “There was so much blood, from her torn nails” – also from her arm, which was in its mouth.

 

(para.4) – “she might have made it back by nightfall” - Really? Not being able to put weight on her ankle? Also, do they have any water? This doesn't seem to be a factor, but you do regularly mention how dry it is.

 

(para.6) – Fantastic imagery and picture of the demon realm. Maybe you've considered it already, but you could write more stories in this setting, it is very interesting.

 

(Page 10, middle) – Their exchange is great, but part of me wanted her response to be closer to his line, without all the description of him in between. Personally, I think the description of him is unnecessarily long.

 

(Page 11, para.1)  - “the coastlands” – I thought they were well away from the coast by now, in the wastes, which I felt from the description were more to the interior of the land?

 

(General) – Commas, there seem to be an awful lot of them. I know there is latitude in terms of rules around comma use but, personally, I found them breaking up the flow of numerous sentences in places where I didn’t want to pause.

 

(para.5) – “Alssia saw Idris narrow his eyes.” – I find a couple of these statements a bit odd, where you describe characters consciously doing instinctive things.

 

(Page 12, para.3) – “while he let the wind speak through it” – Does he let it? I didn’t think he had much choice in the matter.

 

(para.7) – “She is only a worthless worm.” – Sorry, I know this is editorial and not proofing, but the original is rather melodramatic, I thought.

(Page 13, para.2) – “At least he had the grace to look sheepish, after what he had done” – What did he do? He only made the machine work as intended, it wasn't his fault that the first demon was unsuitable. This seems very harsh of her to think this way, way out of character, I thought.

 

(Page 14, para.1) – “Idris was thrown away” – Sounds indecisive, almost like a writing note to self to pick one or the other.

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I think you can save quite a few, depending on how hard you want to be. I'm always reminded of Brandon's account of Niven & Pournelle being told by the publisher of Mote in God's Eye (great story) that they needed to cut 10% (or was it 5%?), so they cut 10% of the words on every page. If there's a will, there's a way.

 

Sure, but there's no reason to cut this for the sake of cutting.  Most magazine that would take it now take up to 7,500 words, most that wouldn't cut off at 4,000.  Unless it's dragging, there's not a particular reason to be ruthless in cutting it, hence why I've been asking for people's thoughts on where it feels like too much.

 

I believe it was 15%, and the point of it is not whether or not the story NEEDS to be cut in order to sell, it's about forcing yourself into an economy of words. By forcing yourself to cut 15% from every page you ensure that every word that's there is there because it needs to be so that there are no lazy words or sentences hanging around wasting space. The writing becomes tight, focused, and evocative.

Learning which words matter will make your edits better, and eventually will make your first drafts stronger. And again, this isn't something you generally want other people doing for you. Even a good (paid, professional) editor won't mark up a chapter with how every sentence can be tightened; they'd rather tell you, "This chapter could lose 10%" and then wait to see how you make the changes in a way that's different from how another writer would do it.

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I appreciate everyone's comments here.  I ask for specific advice partly because I don't have trouble not using it if I disagree, so it's nice to get as much detail in feedback as I can.  

 

On the subject of economy of words.  I'm sure I can cut things from this, and all my stories without harming the meaning, but I care as much about the richness of description and the art of the prose.  I'm not aiming for spare.  I'm aiming for lush, as long as it isn't purple.  That's where I think my skill sits, hence why I ask for particular places that drag.  Then I can focus on reining in where I've gone too far.

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I'm not aiming for spare.  I'm aiming for lush, as long as it isn't purple.  That's where I think my skill sits, hence why I ask for particular places that drag.  Then I can focus on reining in where I've gone too far.

 

Right, but that's what I was trying to get at too. If you have a lush description in two sentences that you can do using two or three fewer words while still conveying the same image then the image becomes sharper. You don't have to go sparse, and you may even favour cutting some other things in order to keep your lush description, which makes it stand out more and showcases your own style.

 

Like, here's a sample from a book I just finished (Westlake Soul by Rio Youers, best thing I've read in years), where the main character is a comatose former surfer describing the ocean.

"Rolling blue sea and spray that shimmers like a smile. That embracing ocean smell, the chorus of breaking waves, and gulls curving their wings into the thermals."

This is not sparse, but it's tight, while being incredibly vivid. Lush, but far from what I'd call purple. There's a lot of information (5 things perceived with three different senses) packed into those 27 words, and that's my point. In a first draft I might have described the same thing but I would have used more words. Probably a lot more words. I've been practicing cutting but I still don't think I could have come up with those lines.

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I ask for specific advice partly because I don't have trouble not using it if I disagree, so it's nice to get as much detail in feedback as I can.  

 

Okay, on this basis (and please vote me down for crossing the critiquing line, I want you to, because I would hate to think I had offended you in any way), I going to email you the file. It's only because I find this topic fascinating and I think it really does make a difference - I'm with Shrike there. I totally accept your desire for lush description, but I think Shrike is right, you can be lush and tight. (Hey, hang on, those terms totally go together!!)

 

I'll repeat, I really don't think the sense is change at all, but I'm not the one to rule on that. Also, there are a few typos in there if nothing else.

Edited by Robinski
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Took a look at your edited draft.  It was illuminating, and you're right that I could cut that much, but I'm a little too invested in the prose style for changes that drastic.  Gonna take another hard look before I send it anywhere, though.

 

Cool. Glad it was interesting. As someone said, that's my personality or 'voice', not yours. But I thought it was an interesting debate.

 

Either way up, it's a great story. Good luck with it :)

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