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Reading Excuses - 2016.04.25 - Valthyr - Penumbra (L,V)


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I do hope the story falls enough within the fiction category that it doesn't bother some of you! Also, when I made my first post here about a year ago, I remember seeing something about cookies. Is the offer still up?

Edited by Valthyr
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Very interesting.  I'll be fascinated to know where the plot goes next.  Since we're still in the early parts of your plot, I'll just do line notes for now.  Your mastery of English is excellent.


line notes:


The list keeps growing, as it seems: The list keeps growing, it seems.

That bloody bird: In the UK, "bloody" is a fairly strong curse, somewhere between "damnation" and "storming."  In the context of sipping tea and buttering croissants, it seemed maybe a bit strong.  Robinski is our resident Scotsman, so I'll defer to his judgment on this, though.

Grumpy stream of people walking around her: I love this line. "Stream of grumpy people" would be more common, but attaching the adjective to "stream" instead of "people" makes it seem as if the crowd is a single grumpy beast that is surrounding her.  It's the sort of effect we native speakers would spend 10 minutes trying to achieve.

down the mismatched streets and into flaking buildings.

  a very, very good line.

perhaps because this was the only one that said “Open” and had no cashier behind the register.  A liquor store would never be left unattended, so you're definitely telling us that the cashier was incapacitated or murdered.  Why does Kaya walk on?

“No. Veil’s right. I better check it out first.” Here, and later when he calls her "little one," Mus seems to act like Kaya's parent-figure.  That might or might not be what you intended, but he seems very fatherly to me.

The bittersweet lullaby of the city:a once-good phrase that is a bit of a cliche now.  It calls up a lot of noir films and hardbitten detective novels.  For me, I only expect this metaphor when the narrator is speaking entirely in film-noir style.

“How do you think we should do this, Mus?”
He sniffed the edge of the license thoughtfully and said “Why don’t we do standard procedure?" 
If something is standard procedure, you usually don't have to consider thoughtfully before you decide to do it.

"I was wrong before –this isn’t what got him in trouble.”  In my experience, people usually don't change their mind this easily once they've taken a position.  Either Veil is very intellectually honest, and takes pride in constantly re-evaluating his positions, or else he's very flaky, and just doesn't care about positions he took in the past. 


edit: derp.  I forgot about the anti-cussin' screen on this site.  The two reference curses were intended as d--- and f---.

Edited by ecohansen
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​Thank you very much for the input!
You caught on to some things that hint to other things later in the plot ... which means that you're asking the questions I want you to ask (perhaps?) - the fatherly behaviour of Mus and the liquor store (Kaya doesn't walk in because she's not among the ... sanest of all people, i'll just leave it at that; expect more weird behaviour).
​The other mistakes have been dutifully fixed! Bloody is intended here, I do know it is a strong curse (I'm fascinated with all things British :D) - the plot will reveal why later.
​Veil is intellectually honest, but that's not all.
​Last, I think I should note that the Stranger is a recurring character throughout the stories I've written and will be there in some future works as well. He's stuck with me ever since I came up with him in 11th grade (I'm 22 now) and if you guys keep enjoying this story, I might delve more into his past - it would give a lot more context to some of the things he sees/says.
Thanks again! I'm off to read some submissions!

Edited by Valthyr
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Welcome to the group!


- As previously noted, your command is English is excellent. I would recommend moving your description up on the first page. "She was beautiful" doesn't do much to hook the reader, but i think your description certainly well.


- Very interested in Veil and Mus, though I'm very curious how a large white mouse has an American accent.


- It took me a while to realize Mus was a mouse - if I read that right - and not just someone she was talking to while a mouse was circling her feet.


- Overall, I'm very interested in the world you are building. I'd definitely like to read more. 

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Welcome back!


I'm interested to see where this goes.  I was taken out of the story a little by starting with the Stranger and the gentleman, and then going to Kaya's POV without much resolution to the scene, but I assume we'll be seeing them again.


When she found the body, why didn't she just take the whole wallet?  If it was a robbery and she took one of three licenses, no one would know anything was missing.  If she took the whole wallet it would look more like a mugging and she would have more to work from.
Pg 4:  I didn't know she had another case until now. It takes the tension away from the dead body, since I have to divide my attention.  If I know she had another case from the beginning, it wouldn't so surprising.
pg 6: "somehow symmetric and angular"
either it is, or it isn't.
Overall, I'm interested in Kaya and why/how she hangs around with a talking raven and mouse.  I'm not completely sucked into the story yet, as the plot hasn't really settled on one thing.  There's a bit of jumping around in this first section, so I'm not sure where the story is going next.
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I really enjoyed some of your descriptions, especially: "his bad combover had survived whatever had happened to him."; "out here she felt like the door to her cage was open"


This paragraph (in my opinion) could be cut way way down:


Evening was falling. The looming mountain now lay in darkness and only a thin red glow, the last remnant of the day's light, outlined the highest peak. A rush of cool air spun around on its slopes uncertainly, puffing down into the city once it had gathered courage, filling the streets with its autumn breath. The pirouette of souls there ground to a halt for a moment as the people pulled tight their garments against the cold, only to continue along their unseen paths, down the mismatched streets and into flaking buildings. Lights popped up, like fireflies that had just been caught in molten glass, and the twilight began to ebb away into the outskirts. A haze rose in the air, a thin veil of smoke coming from the roofs, knitting silently into the evening as fireplaces crackled to life. And then there was the strong, metallic taste of the blood. She’d have to find it.
The description of the mountain was good but after that the prose was flowery but didn't seem to be giving any information, so I skimmed to the bottom. (Note: I don't mind creative prose if every word is still essential)
I like the fact they find a dead body - and that she can't touch it - at the moment this has me fascinated about the rules of the world you've created.
I'm not a fan of the first line. "She was beautiful," is too overdone. 
I am intrigued by the conversation with the men in the beginning. Definitely wondering where that's going.
Anyway, very curious to read more! Keep 'em coming.
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Hey there Valthyr welcome to (back?) the group!


  • Your opening line is short, and the simplicity of it seems to be meant to be the hook for the reader, but you know, I think I might like it better if you gave me that description of her hair as the first line and then the man’s reaction. It would bring me into the world with an engaging image, and it would be charming if the man messed up buttering his croissant or spread too much or some other action that showed the magnitude of his distraction.
  • I don’t know if this threw anybody else, but the description of her skin as white followed by other people seeming ‘less’ rubbed me a little odd. I know you’re not making a racist comment or anything of the like, but it almost sounds like that when you use the word ‘white’ in English in the context of comparing the quality of human beings.
  • I know you’re working in L2, but it would be a huge oversight for nobody to steer you toward grammar rules on dialogue for the English language. Most of your dialogue tags are punctuated incorrectly. I could write out a grammar lesson here, but you could google one a whole lot faster. If you plan to continue writing in English, this is a must.
  • The way the man (sometimes gentleman?) talks to the Stranger makes it seem like he knows him. Does he? And if he does know him, then why is he the Stranger? If this is third person omniscient then this could be glossed over for a time as using the names chosen by the narrator’s voice, but the way the characters are interacting leaves me scratching my head in a disoriented, not intrigued, kind of confusion.
  • I really like that the crow is the odd thing out. It’s the first element in the narrative that hooks me enough to read on and find out.
  • Mountain: We’re in a city, and all of a sudden there’s a mountain. This was confusing. I need you to segue this better or the mountain just appears out of nowhere! In that first paragraph it seems that you’re going into third person limited narrative in Kaya’s head, but then you seem to pull out to omniscient to describe the mountain…confusing.
  • I do like the imagery in the street, even if the narrative voice is vacillating.
  • Distractedly stared at the lights – Hm, are you hinting Kaya has an alcohol problem or is this just a throwaway description of the town? Hm.
  • “Bastard!” – Since we’ve not had any other mention of people around, it seems with no dialogue tags at all that this must be Kaya talking, and it’s disorienting to find it wasn’t her in the next paragraph when I thought she was reacting the register not having a cashier!
  • Why does Kaya relax at the sound of domestic violence? If I had some insight into what she feared it might have been, that reaction would make more sense.
  • Something snapped…and then Kaya shakes her head and loses herself in the sound of her own boots? I’m not seeing the cause effect here.
  • Why does she look up at the strengthening scent of blood? How far up is she looking? She was looking at a second floor a paragraph ago. Is she still looking that high? When did she look down?
  • Veil’s first bit of dialogue should really include that he’s the crow in the same sentence. I saw it coming because I can sweep my eyes across that many words that fast, but the wording should still be clearer since you’re introducing a character.
  • I do like the idea of the crow as an important character, though, especially after the mention of in the first scene.
  • He wasn’t always around. –Is this referring to the crow or the mouse?
  • If Mus’ accent is American…what is everybody else speaking?
  • “I don’t think this one’s for us” – This is great dialogue. I really want to know what kind of dead body is for them.
  • ‘lithe frame’ –If the narrative is 3rd limited, this should be taken out because girls don’t stand around and think about themselves as lithe. If you go with omniscient you could leave it there, but it’s still kind of annoying phrase when you’ve already shown yourself able to give more poignant descriptions.
  • Mus’ conversation about the wine: Good! That bit about staring at the alcohol was a little character building after all
  • “Look at the license, love” – Please be careful not to overdo ‘love’…
  • So far Veil’s winning the best character for me—he’s giving up the best dialogue but I do appreciate that I can feel he’s a very different personality from Kaya or Mus
  • Kaya spinning: Is she drunk or does she have some kind of sixth sense…?


You didn’t put any specific questions in your commentary or critique requests, but you did mention being concerned about writing from a female POV. I did not know whether I was reading a man writing a woman or a woman writing a woman until I went back to your email and checked to see what feedback you wanted and saw your name tagged to email, indicating that you’re male. So I would so far so good on that front. ;)

Edited by krystalynn03
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Welcome (back?) to Reading Excuses!


The 'as I go' comments

- I am very intrigued by 'grape flavored smoke'. It makes my mouth water for some of the artificially flavored grape bubble gum

- You are referring to the object of the man's desire as a 'girl'. His attention to her was very adult. Did you chose the word 'girl' with purpose, or did you actually mean 'woman'? If you are trying to show the POV of the man through that description, that's fine, but it does cast him in a very specific light.

- When you switch to Kaya's POV, the third paragraph could be cut quite a bit. It is a huge descriptor dump. I tend to like this information more spread through the narrative, instead of in clumps, although I'm sure others prefer it this way. Either way, might be just a hair too long.

- Page 4, the raven calls Kaya 'love'. This speaks a great deal to their interactions and relationship, and is either a little intimate or a little condescending, depending on context. She's clearly a professional, so having a raven call her 'love' raises some questions

- Same sort of deal on page 5, when Mus calls her 'little one'. Are the animals all older than her, and serving as mentors (possibly raised her?). I could see that, from the language being used, at which point it is more endearing than anything else. Having her spin on the chair like a little girl while drinking wine is very contrasting imagery. Is she a professional, or a teenager? If she's both, is that why she needs animal guardians? 



Overall Thoughts

I'm....I'm unsure how I feel about this. The writing is lovely, absolutely lovely, vivid, even scenic. It's beautiful to read and I want to bury myself in it. The story, however, leaves me with a lot of questions and some feelings of unease. How old is Kaya? If she's around 15, then everything makes sense (aside from her having this job, but I can go out on faith with that for a bit). If she is an adult, say, 18 or over, the language used to describer her and the way people and animals talk to/about her is upsetting to me. I don't want to get into the nuts and bolts of that, however, unless you really want me to. 


I'm really glad you submitted and I do look forward to reading more! Your English is amazing!

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Holy $%#^!
​I wasn't expecting to see so many responses when I woke up today! Thank you all so much.

​I have dutifully removed the opening line - you were all correct, it's cliche and doesn't do much in the way of hooking the reader.

I have fixed the simpler mistakes that you guys mentioned, and now I'm in the process of fixing the dialogue. I do have to thank krystalynn03 for pointing it out - I had almost never before written dialogue using quotation marks, and as such I had no idea what to do with it so I just made it up (badly). I had been using - This is the wrong type of dialogue. - He said. before, but I think it was robinski, who pointed out a while ago that it's not very common in English.

​I am going to fix the length of the descriptive parts, or break them up somehow as it does annoy me as well now that I read it. 

​I have fixed the character introductions so that there's no confusion about Mus and Veil talking, and I have fixed the "Bastard" part. 

In retrospect, I realize that some parts may have sounded confusing (like the "lithe frame") and I have fixed them, though I have to spoil a bit of plot in order to explain better why it is so confusing overall. Kaya is not sane. At all. The language I used to portray her as a girl (and she is in fact a 25 year old woman) was intentional - if you see her in real life (I have met such a person) you'd be left with the impression that she's at times really girly, improperly so for her age. But it does have an explanation later in the plot, as do the way the two companions act. And I have his weird idea - I let the characters that I'm writing about influence my writing style - so there may be differences in style as I go along, depending on who I am focussing on. Kaya is girly, dark (for a reason), broken and not very normal?, so I am trying to portray that in the way I write when it's a chapter about her.

​So I'd say that you guys were actually asking yourselves the questions I wanted you to ask, because there's a lot to ask about in the story, and it is all unfolding slowly, answering one thing at a time. If I had answered some of the questions raised this early on, it would break major parts of the plot, so this whole thing was really really ​difficult to write in a way that hints at these weird things without becoming so convoluted that the reader gets lost in it. I am still working on my ability to write this kind of stuff, as it's quite a ways away from my comfort zone involving spaceships, power armour and fighting :D So your input has been really valuable in determining "what, where, why" and so on.

​Thank you all, and have an epic day!

​P.S. These cookies sound a bit suspicious to me ... but they are cookies, so I will take them!

Edited by Valthyr
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Oh, it's a thing on the broader 17th shard site.  Whenever someone new signs on, they're offered 'cookies'--if they accept, they learn that the cookies are hemalurgic spikes and lose their soul, like Valthyr just did (sorry Valthyr).  Silly internet initiation ritual.

Edited by ecohansen
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​Bloody is intended here, I do know it is a strong curse (I'm fascinated with all things British :D) - the plot will reveal why later.​


Lol, yes, I got that - clearly Veil is intended to be speaking in a cockney accent, judging from his use of 'love' as a term of endearment. Hopefully not a Dick Van Dyke cockney accent though ;o)

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I’ve done a certain amount of carping at the detail of the story (below), and have several questions that I was uncertain about, however I did enjoy it. I liked the tone of the narrative and I like Kaya’s relationship with her familiars, whose own characters came out pretty well, I thought, and were reasonably distinctive.


While I am developing some interest in the characters, I'm not gripped by the story yet, which I would prefer to be. Some stolen pearls – not very stimulating. Clearly, there is something bigger going on, and the initial tension with the men in the cafe was good, but that has slipped away. Following Kaya and finding the body at night was good, retaining the tension, but everything has become rather cosy since then.


The reference to Sherlock is verging on cliché. Not even a reference to Sherlock Holmes, but to the newer TV shows? I feel it’s lazy. Does your detective stand on their own or not? There’s a good set up for Kaya with her familiars, but I think you need to reveal more up front about her mysterious nature and whatever powers she might have, to hook the reader in.


I'm hoping that the tension and mystery crank up again quickly in the next submission, but decent job so far.




Clearly, the protagonist is a foreigner – no authentic French person would spread butter on a croissant.


The blocking is a bit unclear. I thought the woman was much closer than she is. Is she across the street? How wide is that street?


“The Stranger said” – why do the capitalise stranger? If this person is on some higher level of existence, and the head of the secret organisation in which his title is ‘The Stranger’, do you need or mean to reveal it in the first instance of his appearing? If this isn’t a formal title or have some wider cosmic significance, why not just call him stranger? I'm on a quest to rid the world of the fad unnecessary and mannered capitalisation.


How is it the guy’s cigarette is grape-flavoured, a weird random detail. If he was vaping, I would not give this a second thought, but you used the term cigarette, so I'm thrown out of the story trying to figure that one out.


“soft, flaky side of the croissant” – This sound like one side of the croissant is soft and flaky and the other isn’t, but in reality they are the same all over, in my experience.


“sipped some of his tea” – what does this add?


“The list keeps growing, as it seems”


“looking straight at the two in the café” – I'm bothered by the angles here. Street lights are normally pretty high, especially in city/town centres, compared to residential areas, for example. So, the logistics seem, doubtful shall we say. Maybe you can chalk it up to artistic license. Maybe it wouldn’t snag for most people, or you could sit the crow on something else.


Why are all the people grumpy – seems like a blanket statement. Surely, some of them are happy? Unless there is something you’re not telling us.


I'm not keen on the description of the air on the mountain, it seems too mobile and fast moving, not to mention the way it is heavily anthropomorphised with uncertainty and then courage. Do you intend for the air to be a character? It puts me in mind of Wheel of Time openings, which are well done of course, and they use the wind effectively to create mood, but they don’t I think actually personalise the wind at all (I checked a couple, not all).


“An antique-looking portrait”


“where the sky was still mackerel” – huh?


So, are the animals’ words actually spoken out loud? It seems that way. Ah, ok, you confirm that later, and the mouse has an American accent, hmm, it’s Fievel Goes West all over again. Also, how are you pronouncing Mus? I'm feeling ‘muzz’.


“his bad combover had survived whatever had happened to him” – ROFL, hilarious line.


“but at this point it didn’t matter” – So why does she do it?


“she felt like the door to her cage was open” – Love this line.


“were like stones that she imagined she threw in the lake” – This metaphor does start to stretch towards being tortured.


“used her leg as a ladder” – Ouch, this seems to imply little claws digging into her skin.


“and poured generously. in it


“Why don’t we do standard procedure” – This part gave me a problem. Searching for a name on a computer is one of the easiest things for anyone to do, and the most obvious. There’s no way it’s worth a discussion. Writing computer scenes is a thing that is consistently weak in fiction (and cinema), I think. Remember all the scenes of loading or downloading bars advancing across a screen – rubbish. I would suggest staying away from making computing an important part of your story unless you can bring something fresh to it. Trying to think of good examples, it’s done well in the movie Margin Call (fantastic film), where computing appears as, ‘Look, you’re not going to understand all this stuff on the screen, but I'm an expert, so believe me when I tell you this is bad’ – I'm paraphrasing, of course.


“it had been stopped parked smack in the centre”


Mr. Randall” – “Mr. Bourke” – abbreviation, needs a ‘.’

Edited by Robinski
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Ah, Robinski! I've been keeping an eye out for your input!

​There's a few things I'd like to point out:

​I've fixed the issue with the distance between the girl and the (gentle)man in the beginning (​across the street). ​The "gentleman" is definitely not French. The characters are all British, except for "Muzz". The capitalization of the Stranger is not unnecessary - I do need to reveal that he is the Stranger at the beginning. Actually it doesn't matter where or how he is introduced, circumstances and all - he is a recurring character with unknown origins (on purpose) and unknown intents. His motives are revealed as different in every story (though the outcome of the things he's involved in is almost always the same), and his existence is questionable. I can't really say too much without massive, story-breaking spoilers.

​Grape flavoured smoke - that bit I inserted simply because I smoke cigarettes with grape flavoured tobacco and wrapped in liquorice flavoured rolling paper ("Choice with grapes" tobacco and the brown Zig-Zag rolling paper in an orange packet, if anyone should care to check them out). The Stranger smokes only this kind of cigarettes.

F​ixed the tea, the list, the whole part with the air in the beginning has been removed (that improved the length of the paragraph as well), fixed the whole deal with the wallet (she just took the whole thing). Most importantly I fixed the part about "standart procedure". I have gotten rid of the Sherlock reference as it was lazy writing on my side (but i'd like to point out that in the books there is a reference to " the bulldog "; it, however, was never named. They call it Gladstone in the recent movie adaptations, but I didn't use the name so that you guys wouldn't think I was referencing them. All of that is gone now!)

​Fixed the abbreviations and the car thing. This use of "mackerel" I've seen only once, and I loved it there. However, I don't think it's working in my story, so I fixed that as well. Here's where I saw it: 

The fray of the sunset lays crimson the folds
​of a mackerel night sky
smoldering low
(Leafblade - Sunset Hypnos)

​You are right about the tension problem. As the author, I have the whole story laid out in my head, along with the character backgrounds, etc. - that leads to me writing something that would be understood better when the whole thing is at least halfway through. That's not good at all, so I'll figure something out until Kaya's personality and view of the world have been properly introduced (and solidified) to the reader. I don't remember if I said it, but I try and let the character I'm writing about influence the way I write their chapters/scenes, and Kaya is not your average person (in terms of reactions, understanding of the world etc.).

​Thanks a bunch, Robinski! I am off to continue her story, keeping the things I've learned in mind.

​P.S. Having to edit my own work is one of the worst parts about writing. I don't know about any of you, but when I'm not editing my content, I'm wasting a ​huge amount of time ​just checking for spelling mistakes, punctuation, proper dialogue tags etc. Since I've just now decided to start writing seriously (regularly, with my focus in life being this), I don't know what's to be expected and what's normal. Any input on that?

Edited by Valthyr
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I remember the mackerel sky thing now, I think I have heard it once before, it's to do with the stripes, I think. Fair enough, but maybe it's a wee bit obscure.


In terms of tension, I should have said that I certainly don't expect a story to be tense from start to finish, so maybe it was more that my interest was flagging.


You can have my 5 cents on editing. Anything that you submit to any forum forms an impression for any reader who comes across it. My approach is to keep both spelling and grammar checker on at all times. I am highly attuned to those annoying little red and green squiggles (in Word at least), and root them all out before submitting anything anywhere. This does not avoid all errors, but tends to limit them to 'right spelling, wrong word'. In doing this, once I get to the end of my first draft, I hope all that is left are content and style issues.


The QED on this is that whatever people think of my plot, style, narrative, etc., they are usually surprised (in a good way) to hear that something is a first edit. I think it's one way to make a good impression on readers at any level of a work's development, showing that you are thorough in your process. And all that time it's your computer that's doing most of the work.

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Hey, so I do like to go back and read other 'crit'ters and comments back when I like a story, and Robinski pointed out something I don't think I said but it reminded me that I thought it also at the time: I was a bit disappointed that it was pearls missing. If I already told you and forgot, sorry, but I think missing pearls feels like the first episode to every cartoon mystery show ever. I want it to be something more interesting gone unless you're going to play with the trope in an interesting way and surprise me somewhere along the line. (2 cents!)

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*Gives change back*

This: "My approach is to keep both spelling and grammar checker on at all times.​"
​I do the same. It was my first edit that I sent, but Word doesn't help with things like dialogue tags and things like that (and this time around, I had messed up my dialogue punctuation a LOT :D). Anyways, you have my gratitude!

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*Gives change back*

This: "My approach is to keep both spelling and grammar checker on at all times.​"

​I do the same. It was my first edit that I sent, but Word doesn't help with things like dialogue tags and things like that (and this time around, I had messed up my dialogue punctuation a LOT :D). Anyways, you have my gratitude!


Yeah, at the end of the day there is no quick way around just reading the thing again. Another good tip, which maybe you use already, is to read out loud - even if it's just the dialogue - which helps with believability of speech, and I guess would help pick up the tags.

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