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Reading Excuses—9/21/20—JWerner—The Unnamed v.2—5028 words—V, G


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Hello, I was late to the party for this one so I read last week's before realizing there was a revised version for this week :-) 

Much improved from the the previous draft. Many of the foggy parts that I had planned to comment on were fixed. 

Some of the descriptions were really beautiful, weather the subject was grotesque or otherwise. I felt a strong western gothic vibe with some horror elements thrown in. 

I should mention that I am not typically a fantasy genre reader so many of the accepted conventions and tropes are lost on me. I am also a nurse who works primarily with kids so due to that bias, some parts of this story hit me the wrong way.

The element of child sacrifice really turned me off of the other two main characters from the start. It seemed apparent from the first 'story' around the fire that this is what was comming, and the reference to many other lost children seemed to suport that these two adults are repeatedly and knowingly bringing children to their deaths. In the second draft, being shown the sacrifice re-doubled this feeling. I had zero sympathy when D and O died for this reason. I also struggle with why S is going along with this or would be excited to 'see dragons' unless she was coerced or being lied to. 

This may be just my issue, and has nothing to do with the quality of the story telling. Just a personal sore spot. Feel free to ignor. 

A few line by line notes:

"Fireplace" to me is part of a house. This may just be local usage, but an outdoor fire has a pit or a ring but not a place. Or is just a fire. I have no idea why, this just caught my eye. 

Pg 4: "without a child's menace..." child's menace? 

Pg 8: "the blood began to crackle" outside of her body? Not sure what's happening here. 

Pg 10: "It took the rest to forget" rest of what?

Pg 13: "fell to his feet." In my mind O was already standing, so I wasn't sure what to picture. 

I don't mean to seem negative or discouraging. I think I am just not your target reader for this story. There is some really solid writing here I hope you find a publisher home for it!


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Though this could just be because I have read it before, I thought this draft was much easier to understand overall. I liked still like the tone, and the mysterious world. Overall, an improvement. 

pg. 1-2 I noticed a few subtle changes to the prose. I think it makes it a lot easier to understand. 

pg 4 his coughing and inability to go forward seems more on-purpose this time around. 

Pg 4. "without a child's malice..." I am also a bit confused by this sentence. 

pg. 5 the encounter with the ghost is still not my favorite, but it is a lot clearer this time around. I like the gothic flavor it adds. 

pg. 6 the encounter with the jackalope is more related to the other events, and the emotional connection with D is good. 

pg. 8 I like the break in the pattern of the rhyme 

pg. 10 "her hand brushed" again, I really like the greater emotional connection with D

pg. 11 repeats the word frost in reference to the ghosts. 

pg. 14 was S threatening to kill herself in the first draft? it's an interesting addition. 

pg. 16 the detail with the creature grabbing her is much clearer

pg. 17 is the J really O?


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Overall, this reads better than last time. I noticed a few cleaned-up spots throughout, and also some additions and clarifications at the end.

The biggest changes seem to be in the last couple of pages. I think it's definitely clearer what happened to the kid. I only have a couple of comments:


pg 14: Giving S some agency to negotiate with the dragons I think makes her more effective. Good addition.


pg 17: "The creature flailed and sliced off the meat’s head," "The old man laid dead alongside the"

--So the creature cut off the old man's head, right? But A doesn't make any mention of it. Something like that is usually noted.


pg 17: the added section with the journeyman helps. I think it gives some closure to S's tale.

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Opening line works very well! Second line, not so much. I stumbled on it, I think due to all the ancillary verbs. Not normally something I would harp on but after the first line, I really wanted to just be dragged all the way into the story.

P3 “a way’s away” just “a ways”

I’m getting mixed messages about how dangerous it is to go off alone. The initial narrative makes it seem like this journey is incredibly dangerous, then D takes S and leaves O alone for an hour (I mean, bathing is important, but still), O yells at S when she gets more than 10 paces ahead but later nobody stops her when she wanders off into the woods by herself…

p4 “...able to rile up D…” I mean, I get it, but this makes O seem like a bit of a jerk.

p “...and it never saw fit to grow” nice description here.

P 7/8 Was surprised to find D apparently standing outside the house during this encounter. I had thought that she had gone in with O and S.

P10 “...less than a w eek to forget what D sounded like” well that’s properly horrifying, in a terribly mundane way. Nice detail here.

Uhh why did the kid get the gun?

P15: “two blink’s” should be “two blinks’ pass...”

p16 “...lumber towards the gate.” Isn’t S already through the gate by this point? My assumption would be that this thing can’t pass through, since the implication is that S herself must be let through, and therefore no longer poses a threat to S on the other side, which unfortunately diminishes somewhat the major sacrifice O makes to, apparently, stop it from getting to her.

Overall, I didn’t have much in the way of comments. The prose is really solid and the pacing appropriate. I’ll second that I didn’t feel a lot of sympathy for O or D, but I also didn’t feel like this was needed for the piece to work.

No dialogue can be a pretty tricky proposition to sustain over (almost) an entire piece, but it was well-done here, and created a feeling of distance from the narrative that I thought worked really well. Nice work.

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I'm sorry I didn't have the time to be able to read the first draft, but at least you'll be able to get a nice cold read from me on this one.

Thoughts as I go:

Pg 1, "Was the dragon a boy dragon or a girl dragon?" I am assuming S is a child both from name and the questions asked. 

Pg 2, "Its skin  sparkled with the glow of captured stars and burning novas." Ooooh, pretty.

There's a definite style to this writing. I like it. It is very definitive and recognizable. Was it a stylistic choice to switch "that" with "what" or do you do that unconsciously? 

Pg 5, "She’d paid passage for the the Oregon trail" Narrator has a stutter, apparently. 

Pg 6, "did not  chase after her." In such a dangerous world, this seems like a death sentence for a child. 

Pg 8, "teeth jutting out from places where they weren’t  supposed to." That sounds friendly. I think I preferred the rabbit. 

Pg 8, " taloned digit the size of a man’s arm away from its hand." Deadly but barely held together. Like a windego crossed with a zombie.

Pg 8, " She could feel herself going." Oh gee, that explains that disturbing scream way too well. 

I wonder how long it takes for the blood to become poisonous?

Pg 9, "he held a column of silent black flame" Flame which can't harm monsters, apparently, since he didn't whip out that party trick earlier.

Pg 15, " They burst through the monster’s guts" Rather rude he hadn't done that for D, but did he not have that knowledge previously?

Pg 17, "They piloted the meat to the invader" I'm not 100% sure what is going on here. Did the dragon take over S's body and then destroy the monster? I am really tired and my brain is more than a little muddled.


Child sacrifice to restart the world. A brutal cycle. I wish I was more awake to enjoy this piece, as I think it is well written, with a definitive style. It certainly feels like something narrated, a strong contrast to the third person limited books I tend to read on my own time. I thought the monster horrific, especially once it was revealed what it had been originally. 

I pictured A with a tommy gun, which I don't know if that was what you were going for, but it gave a nice anachronism to add to his mystique, considering the Union lady earlier.  

On 9/22/2020 at 1:21 PM, Silk said:

I’m getting mixed messages about how dangerous it is to go off alone. The initial narrative makes it seem like this journey is incredibly dangerous, then D takes S and leaves O alone for an hour (I mean, bathing is important, but still), O yells at S when she gets more than 10 paces ahead but later nobody stops her when she wanders off into the woods by herself…

I did struggle with this myself.


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Finally got here, apologies for the delay. Here are my comments, not having read the previous version.

(page 1)

- Line 1: interesting, engaging.

- Line 2: very wordy and busy. There are seven 'verbs or actions' (one of them's a noun: journey) in this sentence, and I think that is what makes it come over as disjointed. I feel that you could just as easily say 'On the brightest night of their journey, O finally told S where they were going and why.'

- The repetition of 'monsters' felt awkward to me. I do like imagery around here.

- Since it's a short, I'll go LBL. "puffed tobacco in a long pipe", IMO. Also, seems to me he would sit down then puff the tobacco.

- "uncomfortable..." - LOL. Nice line.

- "a soul is immeasurable in its worth" - My head wants the phrasing to be simpler, like, 'a soul's worth is immeasurable'. I think it's a recency / primacy thing. In summary, the 'rule' that the most memorable parts of a sentence, or paragraph, are the start and the end.

- Not sure there would be a fireplace. They are camping out, right? So maybe fire pit?

(page 2)

- "he drew his wand out from his pocket and pointed it among the stars" - (a) suggest deleting 'out', doesn't add anything, IMO; (b) I feel that pointing is at one specific location, whereas 'among' suggests various location. Could he point it at the night sky? Something like that. Again, though, lovely imagery.

- "turned her old faster than nature" - phrasing tripped me up. I think 'made her old' would be more immediately understandable. 'turned' sets me up for a noun, I think. Like 'turned her hair grey'. In fact, 'had aged her faster' would the the clearest form, I think.

- Double 'had' is always awkward. Right, but awkward. 'They'd had names' avoids the double had.

- Oh, I thought it was meant that the lost children had names.

- "Names were not spoken for fear of the things what knew their price" - grammar, or typo 'that'. Also, thing that knew their price...what? I feel that this form is usually accompanied by some terrible result. E.g. 'for fear that the terrible things would eat them.'

- "They did not even have to be true names" - But if that's the case, then Sm and Dr would be just as dangerous. Any sort of label would be use as dangerous, surely? And Olb, that's a name. So, is he more powerful? There seems to be a contradiction here, because narrative implies none of them is using a real name.

- Really nice description of how the protects herself against each external 'force'. Well done. The bit about the holsters is a bit wordy. What I would say in general is that there is a degree of wordiness that does tend to get in the way of clarity, sometimes. I suspect you could take 7-10% of the words out with refinement of narrative.

- "Her eyes never quite..." - Nice idea again: many nice ideas, but wordy. "and for that he could never quite find it in him to conjure words". 'find it in him' adds nothing to the sentence, IMO. So much clearer if it was 'he could never conjure the words to bridge..." I won't mention this again. I'm sure you get my point.

- "He’d sown that" - What? He'd sown the gap between them? I'm confused by this paragraph. It's reaching for a nice image, but I don't think that image is clear. I can see where it's going, but I think simpler would be better, still with the same image, just fewer conjunctions.

(page 3)

- "It was no good to die to the things" - I don't understand the grammar.

- "somewhere a way’s away" - tautology: 'somewhere' and 'a way's away' mean the same thing. Delete one of them.

- "because of all the ghosts what were milling about still" - Okay, is the narrative going for a old timer, uneducated tone, a la Old West sort of vibe? That would account for earlier instances of 'grammar'. The thing is, I don't think it's consistent in that tone, and sits somewhere in between, to the point that these (isolated) instances of 'uneducated grammar' seem out of place to me. 

- "and they came back an hour later" - Jeez! I guess they're not in a hurry, or the river is really far away.

- "divined their next route" - I feel that journeys involve one route from A to B, and it's almost never a case of picking a new route each day. I'd delete this.

(page 4)

- "make as much of a fuss as he was able, just to rile up D" - I don't follow the grammar. Oh, wait, on third read I get it. Suggest the above addition for clarity.

- So, I'm three pages in and I no pretty much nothing about the stakes involved. There are dead children, okay, and I've been told straight out that they're going to save the world. I mean, okay, those are the ultimate stakes, but at the same time, they're very, very generic. I don't get the feeling that the team is all that invested in the stakes.

- "stare at them without a child’s malice for a long while" - This implies that child's malice is the norm, that children default to being malicious, but I don't think that's the intention. I would agree that it's normal for a child to stare at something strange without malice, but that's not what this line says. I'd say that something like 'stare for a long while in that way children do, without the least bit of malice.' is clearer. It's primacy and recency again too: 'malice' is the important word in the sentence, IMO, and would resonate more if it was at the end.

- The description of the abyss is excellent. Really well done, totally felt like I was there, clothes snapping in the wind. Super. One minor detail, the speed: it screams across the plains (implying really fast movement, but then it's making slow progress. Those two references seem contradictory.

(page 5)

- "angry at walking so much" - I'd say. 'for' sounds like an apology (from small).

- How did Sm run away on blistered, bleeding feet? How on earth did she run and run?! This is impossible with feet covered in bleeding blisters, IMO.

(page 6)

- I don't know what keeled means. Never heard it as a verb.

- Description of the dead house is excellent. The little details (like the well and the dreamcatcher) totally summon the whole image in my mind. Nice job.

(page 7)

- "tantruming" - not a verb. If I came across this in a bookshop while browsing, I'd put the book back. I know there is excellent president, and completely appropriate context for making words up or taking liberties with language, but there are other instances where there is no need for it. IMO it adds nothing, and smacks of being a shortcut.

- Nostalgia for an upside-down cross? Really confused.

- "C-click" - Love it. Very 'on tone'.

- "Iron...night" - This bit here is really, really good writing, IMO.

- "Each arm was as long as Dragoon was tall" - Notwithstanding earlier comments, a good solid edit, refining language will make this a very sharp story, language-wise. I think efficiency of phrasing is a watchword in this story, and some of it is very good indeed, and yet there are other bits that seem way wordy. For me, this is in between, but 'arms as long as D was tall' has a clearer rhythm, scans better, IMO.

(page 8)

- "Sickly...sockets" - Fantastic. I love that. The line before it seems a touch cluttered. If it ended at 'tissue', I'd be happier. I'm not sure what to do with 'to pump. fl. musc.'

- For me 'bolted' is a word that means 'ran away'.

- "Licking...blood" - Again, this is A-grade grimdark description. I'm impressed.

- The 'second' shot is actually the third, is it not?

- For me, "by the thousand" implies the plural or rather the multiple (of thousand) and you don't need the 's'. In this form (by the...) it is usually the singular that is used (e.g. dozen).

- "who tried to run for her" - 'to her' is more compelling, IMO. 'for her' has two possible interpretations (i) run for her to get to her, but also (ii) run on behalf of her. 'run to her' is unmistakable, I think.

- "caught her in his clutches" - tautology, I think. 'caught' and 'clutch' are doing the same thing. You could say 'clutched her' and it would be just as effective.

(page 9)

- Another nicely phrased section, the scattering, but I'm not sure what 'to time' means. Like 'in time', 'across time'? I'm left a bit puzzled by what otherwise was a great line.

- "Eventually O decided that it wasn’t worth the trouble" - This made me doubtful. I feel like you take that decision before you start digging. Pretty much everyone knows how hard digging is, even with implements. To me, you make that call before you start digging, especially with your hands, before you do the damage.

- "what was left of her" - none of the things he's taken are part of her, so she's all still there. This phrase rang 'inaccurate' to me.

- "He wondered if he had known her long" - This phrase implies to me that he 100% considers that he does know her, and it's just a matter of how long. However, the analysis that follows implies that he thinks he doesn't know her at all. I don't think the two are consistent (with each other).

(page 10)

- "It took the rest" - the rest of what?

- "D's piece" - It took me a couple of goes to get the sense of 'piece' here, in a kind of modern, gangster sense. I thought it was out of place. Also, did D not have two pistols?

- "A long time after..." - define long time. Ten hours; ten days; ten weeks? With nothing concrete in the story in terms of time frame (and I am no objecting to that), when a reference does crop up, it's hard to get a sense of it.

- "the land began to shift out of" - This sounds like the land is moving from one environment to another: kind of disorienting.

(page 11)

- "The man walked over" - Over the river? Huh. Jesus?

- "Frost edged...trailed...frost" - Yet another engaging image, but the repetition is awkward, IMO. 'The frost came from the ghosts which trailed frost.' The last bit is surplus to requirements.

- The man came and sat, nothing happened, then they walked together. This bit seems like it doesn't add anything, but because the man sat, them suddenly walking threw me off my stride.

- "If they over looked the men’s way" - grammar: I don't understand this. Typos?

- "O told him his alias and everything that had happened until now" - Why would he do that? Why does he accept the man's presence so easily? I don't get it. Confused.

(page 12)

- I'm puzzling over this man a fair bit. I can't picture the image of his weapon. Enough detail was provided that I felt I should recognise it, but I've got nothing. And bright clothes? Bright how? Really clean (white), or bright colours? As soon as you said his name was 'A', I thought  'This is death, the grim reaper. Or maybe the devil.'

- "Thousands of them" - Ghosts, right?

- How does Sm know that she's the only one who can hear the hum? I don't remember this being mentioned when there were three of them in the group.

- Also, seems to me that Dr was the only one who really showed any emotion, and that was fear. Now that she's gone, the remaining characters seem kind of emotionally blank. I don't know how they feel about what's happening. Sm goes missing. How does Ol feel about that?

(page 13)

- "scratched-on columns" - I could not figure this until I read the crossing part, but I think if you said 'parallel scratch marks' it would be way clearer. A column, to me, has thickness, but the scratches in a five-bar gate are just line, IMO, not columns.

- Epicentre, I think, is a moveable think, and insubstantial thing, the centre of a storm, an earthquake or some other force. I do not think a fixed physical thing, like a desert or a trashcan (for example) has an epicentre. it has to be something that radiates a force, I would think, and I don't see a desert doing that.

- "started to make for the dais" - What dais? Where did the dais come from? So, they've arrived somewhere? Confused.

- "He’d barely gone thirty feet before he fell to his feet" - Knees, right?

(page 14)

- "And the deer bolted after the monster" - Wait, what? The monster was coming at Ol, when did it run away? So disoriented.

- "pressed its barrel to her temple" - Why? Why is anyone in the story doing any of this? Why is she furious? I've got not emotional baseline, no centre or anchor to judge anyone's actions of motives against. I don't know what's happening, why it's happening, or why anyone is doing what they're doing, or why they came in the first place. There's no motivation, and it's difficult to process anything that happens because of that. 

There continues to be some very nice writing, nice images, and expressions, nice prose that has connected with me, but without motivations, without stakes, I'm afraid it won't pay off in any sort of meaningful way.

- "spoke its true name" - How does he know that? Another instance of something happening for...reasons. Reasons I can never know or understand.

(page 15)

- The transformation into an elephant is so sudden it felt insubstantial to me, very easy, almost casual. Again, I don't feel the stakes, I don't fear for Sm.

- "she'd gone" - tense confusion: suggest 'she was gone'.

- "Turned out it was a pelt, not fur." - So? Some animals have pelt, some have fur. Seems irrelevant.

- "Beneath was something a few steps removed from human" - But the beast was already removed from being human.

- What is 'orbal'?

- "curved out from along its arms" - tautology. 'jutted and curved out' is too, but I can see how those two terms each add something slightly different to the description, which from along doesn't.

- "and dive-bombed the creature" - modern term spoils the tone, IMO.

- "It was swatted out of the skies for its trouble" - (a) passive; (b) casual.

- "A steady rapport of gunfire" - typo: 'report'.

- A takes quite a while to come into the fight and start shooting, it seems to me.

- Also, stakes. Okay, there's fighting, but why, what's going on, what is the creature trying to do? Without any POV internal monologue, or dialogue, it's all very figurative. Figurative stories can work, of course, but I think intent and motivation have to be crystal clear. As noted before, I don't really see much in the way of motivation for any of the characters. There are no personal stakes, just the world ending, but the world is always ending. I think many of the best stories do not revolve around the world ending, but the personal stakes of the characters.

- "mustering through Ash’s onslaught" - typo? Mustering means assembling, so I don't really get the sense of this.

(page 16)

- great description of Ol feeling his wounds. 

- "The JT had to be finished." - But it is finished, surely? Sm went through the gate. Do they all have to go through the gate? As noted before, I don't really understand what they're trying to do, and why, or what constitutes success.

- "They smiled decaying rictus grins and reached for his eyes with fingers formed into clamps." - Great image, very scary. But, I think this is an excellent example of Primacy and Recency, and putting the right word at the end of the sentence, and the whole section. I think the effect is much more chilling if this is rearranged a bit, like this: 'They smiled decaying rictus grins and, with fingers formed into clamps, reached for his eyes.' This way, the stakes in the sentence, and the full horror lands right at the end.

- This section with Sm feels very passive; I feel distanced from it. I don't get to hear the people speaking, I am simply told what they said, like I'm not there, but only hearing about it afterwards.

- "She said she didn’t know, but that the woman she was with wanted the world to be saved." - (a) If she doesn't know why she's there, what am I supposed to think? (b) This is Dr, right? It sounds like she's still there with Sm, suggest 'had been with'.

- "gripped his wrist in her own" - wrist has nothing to grip with. What are they doing? Are they just shaking hands? Presumably 'hand' can replace 'wrist'. Or, are they doing one of those cheesy barrier handshakes? That would be super cheesy, and how would Sm know to do that, she's no warrior (from the evidence of the story).

- Creepy image at the end of the section here. Nice surprise, unexpected. But, 'had her by the stomach' sounds weird to me.

(page 17)

- "They piloted the meat to the invader" - Eh? What on Earth...? None of these words go together. 'pilot', okay, steered, guided, fair enough, I can live with that. But what meat are we talking about? I don't know what's going on. And what is the invader? Oh, the beast, creature, shaggy thing, okay.

- Who is they? Last occupant? how can they just flip the beast over, it was massive, was it not? What and who are they? I don't know what's happening.

- Eh?

- What is neg-inf?

- Eh?


I know stories like this get published. There is some very good writing in it, and there are bits that I think need fixed from a drafting perspective. My main issue is that I never felt any character motivation, and I never understood the stakes. It never felt like the end of the world, and if it was, so what? None of the characters seemed to have any reason to live, or die. Apart maybe from Dr.

Ultimately, I don't like getting to the end of the story and feeling confused, disoriented and not feeling any emotion or attachment to it or the characters. 

I don't know if anything I've said is in any way helpful, but I hope some of it is.

Good luck with it.

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10 hours ago, JWerner said:

Hi Kais, sure thing. Would you like the version that was already sent, or the new update that accounts for some of the above suggestions? 

The new one would be just fine. Thank you!

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This is a review of version 3

It's still well written, but I still don't know what is going on at the end. There is a lot more direction now at the start so I get invested no issue, but once they reach the gate with the dragons I get really confused. What does S do? Does she save the world? Does our MC do anything to help? What was the purpose of A? Of the monster that killed D?



As I go

- pg 1: 'save the world' is pretty generic and I don't think works as a solid hook. Something more specific would be better I think

- pg 3: It was no good to die to what lived out here. <-- this is hard to read. Suggest rewording to make it more clear

- their goals are a lot more clear in this version

- pg 3: I still deeply dislike the guy kicking D awake so she takes care of the kid. I'd put this down at this point if I was browsing in a bookstore

- pg 4: Sometimes there were ghosts and monsters and monsters that were men <-- second time we have had this line

- pg 10: the death of D is a lot better now, though I'm left to wonder why she went in the house to begin with. They didn't need anything in there. It reads more like plot convenience. I need more of a reason why she went in when our MC refused to

- pg 12: They watched. Thousands of them <-- I still don't know who 'they' are and that makes me grumble

- pg 15: the narrative continues to unravel here. It's more clear than before, but I'm still lost. Why did S's body disappear?

- pg 16: The creature’s shadow had her. <-- I have no idea what is going on 

- pg 17: The Journeyman <-- so, so confused

- what happened at the end? Did S save the world?

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