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Thread: The Writing Critique Megathread (1000 words or less)

  1. #1
    Super Senior Member Delphinus's Avatar
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    The Writing Critique Megathread (1000 words or less)

    A major problem I've noticed on this forum is the inability of anyone to get decent critiques of their work, and I know a few members other than myself are frustrated by this. Other writing forums operate on a 1-for-1 policy, where you're not allowed to post stories up for criticism unless you've already criticised someone else's piece, but for obvious reasons, that's not feasible here. I think the fact that stories are spread out over multiple threads, and of highly variable quality and length, also makes many reluctant to give edits or critiques of others' work.

    This thread aims to foster critique and creative exchange between the writers on this forum, for our mutual improvement.

    THE RULES

    If you break these rules once or twice, no big deal, we all make mistakes. If you break them horribly or often, expect to be reported to the mods and shouted at.

    If you think of any more rules, ask about them and I'll edit them in if I think they're a good idea.

    • You must criticise others' work at least much as you post your own work. This won't be strictly enforced, but don't post piece after piece without helping anyone else. This is selfish and will end up killing the thread.
    • All pieces must be 1000 words or less, with a slight margin of error. Feel free to post something that's 1241 words long or something, but don't go crazy and post the entire text of your novel, no matter how choice it is. You can post excerpts from longer works or whole short stories, so long as they're the right length. For poetry about 50 lines is the maximum, even if that's significantly less than 1000 words. This is because poetry is much more condensed and elaborate than prose, so it's harder to critique.
    • Give helpful criticisms. You don't have to be nice or balanced or give 'criticism sandwiches' (although the latter would be appreciated), but you do have to give criticisms of some actual substance. That means not saying "looks good" or "this is shit, you are shit, go kill yourself". It's fine to enjoy or loathe someone's work, but give reasons for it. Say things like "I enjoyed your portrayal of the dragon as a misunderstood but destructive creature, rather than simply an evil hoarder." or "All the women in your story are weak and seemingly incapable of talking about things other than shopping and men. This isn't very believable and makes you seem like a massive misogynist." Be specific if possible; give examples of why the women seem weak and unbelievable.
    • Respond to critiques. Either edit your piece in line with what others have pointed out, or explain why you're not going to use that particular part of their critique. (Hint: "It's my style." is very rarely a valid excuse.) Or, indeed, accept their criticism but change the piece in a way differently to how they suggest. This is an interactive, organic, dialectical process. Don't just post up your work and forget about it; why should anyone criticise your work if you don't do anything about it?
    • Put your pieces in spoiler tags. Because we don't want huge walls of text dominating the thread.
    Last edited by Delphinus; 09-27-2012 at 11:42 AM.
    Quote Originally Posted by Fenn
    You forgot your F in Modesty.

  2. #2
    One Thousand Member Regantor's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Delphinus View Post
    Respond to critiques.
    This.

    There is nothing more annoying and discouraging than acting like your work is already perfect. I've heard it all a bunch of times; "That's too much effort!" and "Well other people liked it!"... Nobody can tell you exactly what to change, of course, it's your story. They can only tell you what impressions they have been given...

    But if a person criticizing you is wrong, you need to prove them wrong with your writing. Not simply telling them they are wrong within the thread. Think of all the people who didn't like what you wrote and thus didn't bother commenting at all, if nothing else.

    If your work just happens to be really niche and won't appeal to certain people, then fair enough. Like I said, it's your story, and it's up to you what you alter. But you still have to actually try and sell those flaws. You can't just deny that they exist...

    Otherwise you might as well get used to having people denying your work exists. :/

  3. #3
    One Thousand Member Matt's Avatar
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    WRITING

    I think everyone should be taught how to take critiques as a prerequisite for graduating middle school. There are few things more embarrassing than an adult or older teen flipping out because someone dared to give an honest critique.

    Anyway, let's not let this thread die. MT could use a good writing critique thread.

    Not the very beginning of the story, but shouldn't be too hard to pick up on. 1158 words:
    SPOILER! :
    Siren had learned her lesson about judging people prematurely two years ago. Everybody, regardless of age, sex, race, or occupation, was many times deeper than she first assumed. Some people, she would have preferred not to learn more than their first impression suggested. Even a serial killer had standards. But the interactions had saved her life.

    Illyana was like most of the people she'd talked with: annoying to no end at first, and easy to empathize with after mere minutes. As she'd expected, a dryad was no different from any other race.

    She landed in front of Sigmora's clinic and pulled her wings around her body, leaning against the wall beside the door. She'd made friends before. Why did she naturally return to Illyana? She was probably twelve or thirteen, one or two years younger than Siren, and missed her parents. Was that alone enough? Illyana probably didn't think of her as a friend. She didn't know the extent of the damage she'd done to the dryad's ankle, but it was a terrible first impression. Then again, the very first impression was probably one of Siren sitting in a tree and writing very sloppily, if she'd seen the text at all.

    She'd been gone for a long time, acting as a messenger--one of the many jobs laid on her in the absence of angels or falcons. Was Illyana still here? Probably. With her ankle the way it was, she wouldn't be going anywhere for a few weeks, if not more. Siren knew very little about healing injuries, but she knew what a tendon was, and she knew she'd cut halfway through one. Thinking about it, her own ankle hurt. She reached down and felt the thick tube-like thing on the back of her ankle. Then she imagined it being cut. She had a lot of apologizing to do.

    The door opened a moment later, and Illyana's face stuck out. Their eyes met. Illyana looked away first. They both started to speak at once.

    "Go ahead," said Siren.

    "I'm sorry," said Illyana, edging out of the doorway. Her ankle was wrapped in cloth and held straight by a shaft of wood that stuck out the top of the wrappings. She was on crutches, her clothes had been replaced by the clinic's typical garment that looked like a pillowcase with sleeves, and her hair was neatly combed. Like many citizens, she wore a sunhat.

    "Sorry?"

    Illyana nodded, avoiding Siren's eyes. "I knew what you were, and that was why I provoked you. I was mad at someone else and took it out on you."

    "I owe you an apology, too," said Siren. "I tried to kill you."

    "Well, you're a blood angel."

    "That's no excuse. You're a dryad and you didn't steal anything--did you? From the clinic?"

    "No. I got a job, though. It pays."

    "Jobs pay. So you really can heal?"

    "I already told you I could. By the way, where did you go? I can hear your wing beats from a kilometer away, and you haven't been around for a week."

    "So you assume I fly everywhere?"

    "Those things are massive," said Illyana, pointing at Siren's wings. "Walking doesn't look all that convenient for you. I stick to trees myself. So I imagine you stick to the air."

    Siren motioned toward the southwest. "I was delivering a letter."

    "Oh."

    Silence followed. Siren quickly resumed the conversation.

    "So you've been around during the night? What did you think of the wind?"

    "About that," said Illyana. "I have questions. And I can't stand around like this. Can we sit down or something?"

    Siren slid down the wall and sat on the grass. Illyana rolled her eyes.

    "You're so informal."

    Illyana sat against the wall as well, close enough for comfortable conversation, far enough away to indicate that it wasn't a casual, friendly conversation. As soon as she opened her mouth to speak, a horn sounded, long and low-pitched. Siren's entire body tensed. The horn rose an octave, and Siren jumped forward, running a few steps before rising into the air. Twice a month, on a fairly regular schedule, she heard that horn, and she was usually closer than this to the gates where the rippers would converge.

    Even Siren was slightly afraid of the rippers, despite the skill that came with her race. She arrived at the south gate as guards propped planks and beams against it. She dove quickly. A quick thrust of her wings kept her from breaking her legs on impact as she stood and faced the rippers. The creatures' backs were turned toward her, and there were five of them. They slashed at the gate with huge, heavy claws. Calming her nerves, Siren reached out to the sides and pulled her bladed feathers free from each wing, six in total. She held them in front of her and carefully angled them at the creatures. Two for the one in the middle. One for each of the others.

    She pushed the blades forward. All six hit their marks, and all six rippers died.

    All six turned around and charged.

    Siren waited a few seconds, then jumped and beat wind against the creatures as she rose into the air. She flew away from Sigmora and the rippers chased her, red blades sticking out of their backs, blue blood slowly dripping from fatal wounds. She flew slowly, letting them follow her. Once they were dead, they could follow her for about ten minutes before finally realizing they were dead. In those ten minutes, she was in as much danger of being caught and dismantled as when they were alive.

    She flew for ten minutes, and then the rippers fell all at once and didn't move again.

    She landed and quickly collected her blades. She'd dump them in the forest later, with the rest of them. Why she kept them, she wasn't quite sure, but it felt right. For now, she backed away from the rippers. They were dead, of course, but though she was credited with being the most dangerous creature on the continent, she knew differently. She was horrified of death. It barely seemed like an inconvenience to rippers, and there always seemed to be more of them.

    On the flight back to Sigmora, Siren realized that she'd been trembling. She'd only been injured by the creatures once, two years ago, and had fought hundreds since. Why was she so scared of them? It was probably a variety of things, but greatest of all, she thought, was their lack of concern for their own lives. All they did was kill and eat. Kill and eat. Kill and eat. If she cut their heads off, their bodies would chase her and tear her apart without realizing they had no way to eat her. And then they'd die and collapse and crush whatever life was left out of her.

    She may be a monster, but even monsters feared bigger monsters.

    The problems I notice:
    1. Transition between talking and fighting is awkward and feels like I randomly pulled it out just for the sake of violence.
    2. Illy and Siren are too nice to each other.
    3. The whole thing is rushed, especially the transition and the ending.

    I'll probably rewrite this part regardless of what else is wrong with it, but I'd like to make it the best I can. So, what else can I do aside from making it less violent, taking my time, and making the girls less forgiving?

    EDIT: And the revised edition. Updated as revisions are done.
    SPOILER! :
    Siren had learned her lesson about judging people prematurely two years ago. Everybody, regardless of age, sex, race, or occupation, was many times deeper than she first assumed. She would have preferred not to learn about some people beyond their first impression. She may be a borderline psychopath, but there were some personality traits that dwarfed a blood angel's inherent psychopathic tendencies. Regardless, the interactions had saved her life.

    She landed in front of Sigmora's clinic and pulled her wings around her body, leaning against the wall beside the door. She'd made friends before. Why did she naturally return to Illyana? The dryad was probably twelve or thirteen, one or two years younger than Siren, and she, too, missed her parents. Was that enough to draw Siren to her? Illyana certainly thought of Siren as an enemy, if a merciful one. She didn't know how much damage her cut had done to Illyana's ankle, but regardless, it was a terrible first impression.
    Last edited by Matt; 10-08-2012 at 12:21 PM.

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Matt View Post
    I think everyone should be taught how to take critiques as a prerequisite for graduating middle school. There are few things more embarrassing than an adult or older teen flipping out because someone dared to give an honest critique.

    Anyway, let's not let this thread die. MT could use a good writing critique thread.

    Not the very beginning of the story, but shouldn't be too hard to pick up on. 1158 words:
    I've put the critique between paragraphs of the story.

    SPOILER! :
    Siren had learned her lesson about judging people prematurely two years ago. Everybody, regardless of age, sex, race, or occupation, was many times deeper than she first assumed. Some people, she would have preferred not to learn more than their first impression suggested. Even a serial killer had standards. But the interactions had saved her life.

    Illyana was like most of the people she'd talked with: annoying to no end at first, and easy to empathize with after mere minutes. As she'd expected, a dryad was no different from any other race.
    The first paragraph tells something very specific about Siren's character. She was quick to judge other people without getting to know them more, but she has changed her behaviour (and, by implication, her way of thinking). Her interactions (with other people?) had saved her life. This adds a sense of mystery, because we know that Siren has matured as a person, but we don't know how the 'interactions had saved her life' or if 'saving her life' was the cause or effect of her change in attitude and change in actions. Well done.

    The second paragraph compares Illyana to "most of the people she'd talked with: annoying to no end at first, and easy to empathize with after mere minutes." Then you state a different race, which implies that the characters are from more than one species. That brings up the questions: What species is Illyana from, what species if Siren from, and how do those species 'normally' or 'usually' behave? You also say that Illyana is like most of the people she'd talked with, but which species are those people from, and are the stated character traits 'normal' for that species?

    I could immediately understand the paragraph about Siren, because that is something that most humans can probably identify with through the experiences in their own lives. But your paragraph about Illyana tells something about her character without framing a context (like an example of her interaction with another person), and confuses things by talking about her interaction with another species when the audience has no context for her interaction with... whoever she interacted with before she met a dryad.

    She landed in front of Sigmora's clinic and pulled her wings around her body, leaning against the wall beside the door. She'd made friends before. Why did she naturally return to Illyana? She was probably twelve or thirteen, one or two years younger than Siren, and missed her parents. Was that alone enough? Illyana probably didn't think of her as a friend. She didn't know the extent of the damage she'd done to the dryad's ankle, but it was a terrible first impression. Then again, the very first impression was probably one of Siren sitting in a tree and writing very sloppily, if she'd seen the text at all.
    Who is 'she' in the first word of that paragraph? In the previous paragraph, you were talking about Illyana, so when I started reading the next paragraph I assumed that you were still talking about Illyana. Then Illyana is suddenly a different person, and I assumed that 'She' is Siren while I continued reading the paragraph, but I was only reasonably sure that she's Siren when I read the last sentence. There are times when obscuring a character's identity can work to the benefit of the story, but in that paragraph, I think it would be more beneficial to the character's name instead of 'She.' The first two paragraphs feel like an introduction to the characters while the third paragraph feels like the beginning of the story. So the third paragraph seems like a re-introduction of the characters at the 'start of a chapter,' sort of.

    Something I noticed is that Siren is implied to be a dryad (shouldn't the 'd' be capitalised?). This means, by implication from the second paragraph, that Siren is "annoying to no end at first, and easy to empathize with after mere minutes."

    wait... after re-reading the second paragraph, it appears that you might have been writing from Siren's perspective in the second paragraph. When you stated that "Illyana was like most of the people she'd talked with:" did you mean 'Illyana was like most of the people that Illyana had talked with,' or did you mean 'Illyana was like most of the people that Siren had talked with'?

    When you start a paragraph and use 'she had' after stating a person's name, the rules of the English language state that you're referring to the noun (person's name) that appeared earlier in the sentence; the 'she' later in the sentence is... a predicate nominative? (I forgot if that's what it's called... it's been a while since I studied grammar.) If you meant to say, "Illyana was like most of the people that Siren had talked with," that completely changes the perceived context of the paragraph.

    She'd been gone for a long time, acting as a messenger--one of the many jobs laid on her in the absence of angels or falcons. Was Illyana still here? Probably. With her ankle the way it was, she wouldn't be going anywhere for a few weeks, if not more. Siren knew very little about healing injuries, but she knew what a tendon was, and she knew she'd cut halfway through one. Thinking about it, her own ankle hurt. She reached down and felt the thick tube-like thing on the back of her ankle. Then she imagined it being cut. She had a lot of apologizing to do.

    The door opened a moment later, and Illyana's face stuck out. Their eyes met. Illyana looked away first. They both started to speak at once.

    "Go ahead," said Siren.

    "I'm sorry," said Illyana, edging out of the doorway. Her ankle was wrapped in cloth and held straight by a shaft of wood that stuck out the top of the wrappings. She was on crutches, her clothes had been replaced by the clinic's typical garment that looked like a pillowcase with sleeves, and her hair was neatly combed. Like many citizens, she wore a sunhat.

    "Sorry?"

    Illyana nodded, avoiding Siren's eyes. "I knew what you were, and that was why I provoked you. I was mad at someone else and took it out on you."

    "I owe you an apology, too," said Siren. "I tried to kill you."

    "Well, you're a blood angel."

    "That's no excuse. You're a dryad and you didn't steal anything--did you? From the clinic?"

    "No. I got a job, though. It pays."

    "Jobs pay. So you really can heal?"

    "I already told you I could. By the way, where did you go? I can hear your wing beats from a kilometer away, and you haven't been around for a week."

    "So you assume I fly everywhere?"

    "Those things are massive," said Illyana, pointing at Siren's wings. "Walking doesn't look all that convenient for you. I stick to trees myself. So I imagine you stick to the air."

    Siren motioned toward the southwest. "I was delivering a letter."

    "Oh."

    Silence followed. Siren quickly resumed the conversation.

    "So you've been around during the night? What did you think of the wind?"

    "About that," said Illyana. "I have questions. And I can't stand around like this. Can we sit down or something?"

    Siren slid down the wall and sat on the grass. Illyana rolled her eyes.

    "You're so informal."

    Illyana sat against the wall as well, close enough for comfortable conversation, far enough away to indicate that it wasn't a casual, friendly conversation. As soon as she opened her mouth to speak, a horn sounded, long and low-pitched. Siren's entire body tensed. The horn rose an octave, and Siren jumped forward, running a few steps before rising into the air. Twice a month, on a fairly regular schedule, she heard that horn, and she was usually closer than this to the gates where the rippers would converge.

    Even Siren was slightly afraid of the rippers, despite the skill that came with her race. She arrived at the south gate as guards propped planks and beams against it. She dove quickly. A quick thrust of her wings kept her from breaking her legs on impact as she stood and faced the rippers. The creatures' backs were turned toward her, and there were five of them. They slashed at the gate with huge, heavy claws. Calming her nerves, Siren reached out to the sides and pulled her bladed feathers free from each wing, six in total. She held them in front of her and carefully angled them at the creatures. Two for the one in the middle. One for each of the others.

    She pushed the blades forward. All six hit their marks, and all six rippers died.

    All six turned around and charged.

    Siren waited a few seconds, then jumped and beat wind against the creatures as she rose into the air. She flew away from Sigmora and the rippers chased her, red blades sticking out of their backs, blue blood slowly dripping from fatal wounds. She flew slowly, letting them follow her. Once they were dead, they could follow her for about ten minutes before finally realizing they were dead. In those ten minutes, she was in as much danger of being caught and dismantled as when they were alive.

    She flew for ten minutes, and then the rippers fell all at once and didn't move again.

    She landed and quickly collected her blades. She'd dump them in the forest later, with the rest of them. Why she kept them, she wasn't quite sure, but it felt right. For now, she backed away from the rippers. They were dead, of course, but though she was credited with being the most dangerous creature on the continent, she knew differently. She was horrified of death. It barely seemed like an inconvenience to rippers, and there always seemed to be more of them.

    On the flight back to Sigmora, Siren realized that she'd been trembling. She'd only been injured by the creatures once, two years ago, and had fought hundreds since. Why was she so scared of them? It was probably a variety of things, but greatest of all, she thought, was their lack of concern for their own lives. All they did was kill and eat. Kill and eat. Kill and eat. If she cut their heads off, their bodies would chase her and tear her apart without realizing they had no way to eat her. And then they'd die and collapse and crush whatever life was left out of her.

    She may be a monster, but even monsters feared bigger monsters.


    The problems I notice:
    1. Transition between talking and fighting is awkward and feels like I randomly pulled it out just for the sake of violence.
    2. Illy and Siren are too nice to each other.
    3. The whole thing is rushed, especially the transition and the ending.

    I'll probably rewrite this part regardless of what else is wrong with it, but I'd like to make it the best I can. So, what else can I do aside from making it less violent, taking my time, and making the girls less forgiving?
    After making some comments about the story, I feel that it would be unfair to comment any more without a clarification regarding the second paragraph. You mentioned that the characters are too nice to each other, which has to do with personalities, but I don't want to continue reading the story until after I've gotten clarification on the second paragraph, because that is framing my perception of the characters' personalities.

  5. #5
    One Thousand Member Matt's Avatar
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    WRITING

    I'm glad you caught the viewpoint issues. I knew I'd bumbled my way through that, but I didn't know I'd messed everything up in the process.

    So, clarification:
    SPOILER! :
    Siren had learned her lesson about judging people prematurely two years ago. Everybody, regardless of age, sex, race, or occupation, was many times deeper than she first assumed. Some people, she would have preferred not to learn more than their first impression suggested. Even a serial killer had standards. But the interactions had saved her life.

    Illyana was like most of the people she'd talked with: annoying to no end at first, and easy to empathize with after mere minutes. As she'd expected, a dryad was no different from any other race.
    I'll change two things to clarify:

    1. She would have preferred not to learn about some people beyond their first impression. She may be a borderline psychopath, but there were some personality traits that dwarfed a blood angel's inherent psychopathic tendencies. Regardless, the interactions had saved her life.

    2. Illyana was like most of the people Siren had talked to: annoying to no end at first, and easy to empathize with after mere minutes. Illyana was a dryad, and she was no different than the round-eared cona Siren was accustomed to interacting with. Her skin and hair were darker, she could melt into and out of trees, and her ears were short and pointed. But her mind was the same.

    So, fully rewritten:
    Siren had learned her lesson about judging people prematurely two years ago. Everybody, regardless of age, sex, race, or occupation, was many times deeper than she first assumed. She would have preferred not to learn about some people beyond their first impression. She may be a borderline psychopath, but there were some personality traits that dwarfed a blood angel's inherent psychopathic tendencies. Regardless, the interactions had saved her life.
    It feels slightly infodumpy when I put it like that, but I gave Siren an analytic mind, so I suppose it fits. So, Siren is a blood angel, she frequently interacts with cona, and Illyana is a dryad (I don't think race names are capitalized--at least not according to WordWeb. Though if capitalizing them is more proper and my dictionary is the exception rather than the rule, I don't mind changing it).

    She landed in front of Sigmora's clinic and pulled her wings around her body, leaning against the wall beside the door. She'd made friends before. Why did she naturally return to Illyana? She was probably twelve or thirteen, one or two years younger than Siren, and missed her parents. Was that alone enough? Illyana probably didn't think of her as a friend. She didn't know the extent of the damage she'd done to the dryad's ankle, but it was a terrible first impression. Then again, the very first impression was probably one of Siren sitting in a tree and writing very sloppily, if she'd seen the text at all.
    Darn. This paragraph is a disaster. Thanks again for pointing it out.

    1. Why did she naturally return to Illyana? The dryad was probably twelve or thirteen, one or two years younger than Siren, and she, too, missed her parents. Was that enough to draw Siren to her? Illyana certainly thought of Siren as an enemy, if a merciful one. She didn't know how much damage her cut had done to Illyana's ankle, but regardless, it was a terrible first impression.
    2. I'll just cut that last sentence out. It's not redeemable.

    Clarified Illyana's race, the deal with her parents, and what she thinks of Siren. Siren cut Illyana's ankle, both girls miss their parents, and Siren knows Illyana doesn't think too well of her.

    And the final product:
    She landed in front of Sigmora's clinic and pulled her wings around her body, leaning against the wall beside the door. She'd made friends before. Why did she naturally return to Illyana? The dryad was probably twelve or thirteen, one or two years younger than Siren, and she, too, missed her parents. Was that enough to draw Siren to her? Illyana certainly thought of Siren as an enemy, if a merciful one. She didn't know how much damage her cut had done to Illyana's ankle, but regardless, it was a terrible first impression.

    Ultimately, I want to tell short, understandable, interesting fantasy without infodumping and while keeping reader confusion to a minimum.

    I'll also post a revised edition below the first in my initial post for a point of comparison.
    Last edited by Matt; 10-08-2012 at 12:20 PM.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Matt View Post
    Not the very beginning of the story, but shouldn't be too hard to pick up on. 1158 words:
    Critiques are given in the spolier tags.

    Given that this is not the beginning of the story, and parts of the story reference events that happened in the past, would you mind providing a synopsis of the previous events in the story that relate to this excerpt? That would let me know what has already happened in the story, which would help me to determine if there are problems with the consistency of the story.

    After looking at the original text and then the changes that you made, it feels like I came in part-way through the story and that I'm missing something. That's perfectly fine if things are covered in a previous part of the story. However, if you as the writer are writing things based on your own knowledge, without giving the audience access to the part of the story that you are referencing, then that would be a problem regarding the presentation of the story. A difference between 'mystery' and confusion is like the difference between puzzle pieces with edges that fit together and puzzle pieces with parts of their edges cut off. A mystery follows the logic of piecing information together to get a clearer understanding of how things fit together while confusion is the result of having information with little-to-no way of putting it together.

    So if you want to hide some things, or refer to a story that the audience doesn't have access to, that's okay to do. However, the story must be presented in a way that is engaging to the readers and so that they'll ask 'What happened?' instead of asking, in confusion, "What is happenning?" The difference is a question about the past versus a question about the present. If what's happening 'right now' in a story is confusing, the audience's interest can only be held for so long. Even if there's a confused character in the story that the audience can connect too, what's happenning in the 'present' of the story must become clearer to the audience as the story goes on (even if it's still confusing to the character, the story should be portrayed so that the audience can assume what is happenning, even if the audience 'doesn't know with absolute certainty'). That can be implied by the way that the story is told, which frames the perspective and mood of the story, and frames the perspective from which the audience experiences the story.

    SPOILER! :
    Siren had learned her lesson about judging people prematurely two years ago. Everybody, regardless of age, sex, race, or occupation, was many times deeper than she first assumed. Some people, she would have preferred not to learn more than their first impression suggested. Even a serial killer had standards. But the interactions had saved her life.

    Illyana was like most of the people she'd talked with: annoying to no end at first, and easy to empathize with after mere minutes. As she'd expected, a dryad was no different from any other race.

    She landed in front of Sigmora's clinic and pulled her wings around her body, leaning against the wall beside the door. She'd made friends before. Why did she naturally return to Illyana? She was probably twelve or thirteen, one or two years younger than Siren, and missed her parents. Was that alone enough? Illyana probably didn't think of her as a friend. She didn't know the extent of the damage she'd done to the dryad's ankle, but it was a terrible first impression. Then again, the very first impression was probably one of Siren sitting in a tree and writing very sloppily, if she'd seen the text at all.
    Siren had learned her lesson about judging people prematurely two years ago. Everybody, regardless of age, sex, race, or occupation, was many times deeper than she first assumed. She would have preferred not to learn about some people beyond their first impression. She may be a borderline psychopath, but there were some personality traits that dwarfed a blood angel's inherent psychopathic tendencies. Regardless, the interactions had saved her life.

    She landed in front of Sigmora's clinic and pulled her wings around her body, leaning against the wall beside the door. She'd made friends before. Why did she naturally return to Illyana? The dryad was probably twelve or thirteen, one or two years younger than Siren, and she, too, missed her parents. Was that enough to draw Siren to her? Illyana certainly thought of Siren as an enemy, if a merciful one. She didn't know how much damage her cut had done to Illyana's ankle, but regardless, it was a terrible first impression.
    The change to the first paragraph does sound like of like an info dump, but what if you replace "there were some personality traits that dwarfed a blood angel's inherent psychopathic tendencies" with "even a serial killer has standards"?

    Saying "there are some personality traits that dwarf a blood angel's inherent psychopathic tendancies" tells us something, without telling us much. Knowing that Siren is a blood angel, and that blood angels have psychopathic tendancies, is good to know, but it's better to show that instead of telling it. Anything you state about her personality (since your 'voice' in this story is acting as a storyteller, as opposed to describing the events that happen) needs to match her actions. In this case, it would be better to say as little as possible about her personality, only telling the audience what they need to know and what works for the benefit of story, and showing as much of her character as you can through actions.

    "She would have preferred not to learn about some people beyond their first impression. She may be a borderline psychopath, but even a serial killer has standards." Those sentences would reveal a lot about her personality and the statement of 'borderline psychopath' would compliment her actions of 'being a serial killer.' The entire statement shows how bad she is, or was, but shows that there are limits to how far she's willing to go. That gives the audience something to connect to in Siren's personality, and shows that she has some good in her.

    "Regardless, the interactions had saved her life." That sentence is a little confusing, but... also unsettling. Especially since it follows her statement about not wanting to know more about some people, because even a borderline psychopath, who is a serial killer, has standards. It makes me want to ask what kind of people Siren had been interacting with, but at the same time I don't want to know the answer...

    However, "the interactions had saved her life" is an important point to the story. The questions are 'Who did she interact with?' and 'How did the interactions save her life?' And the question of whether the interactions caused, or were the result of, her change in her thinking toward other people. Those questions don't have to be answered right away, but they should be answered at some point in the story, even in pieces over the length of the story.


    What format is the story in? Chapters of a complete work, an episodic format...? Have either of these characters already been introduced in the story? I'm asking because you're to be referring to things that seem to have happened in the recent past (Siren hurting Illyana's ankle) which implies that you told that part of the story already, but it also feels like you're introducing the characters for the first time.

    If the story is written in chapters within a single manuscript, and you told the story of Siren hurting Illyana's ankle earlier in the manuscript, then you may not need to tell that part of the story again unless there's a 'story reason' to it. If the story is in an episodic format, then you should tell the audience everything they need to know about the story up to this point so that they can understand this episode as a complete episode (as a 'jumping in point'). There are many ways that you can write an episode so that it fits into a larger work but that the episode is also a story with a beginning, middle and end.

    Siren's personality: She's borderline psychopathic, and was a serial killer, but she has limits. Until two years ago, she made assumptions about people and assumed that they were shallow, but since then she has learned that people are many times deeper than she first assumed. Perhaps Siren had no problem killing people because she thought of it as being similar to slaughtering animals? Maybe Siren longs for a deeper relationship with people, and realized two years ago that she can have those relationships if she gets to know people more? Either way, she misses her parents, the same as Illyana, which is probably what's drawing her to Illyana: empathy. However, knowing the story of how Siren cut Illyana's ankle would tell a lot about Siren's personality, and the personality of Illyana.

    Illyana's personality: She probably thinks of Siren as an enemy, if a merciful enemy.

    She'd been gone for a long time, acting as a messenger--one of the many jobs laid on her in the absence of angels or falcons. Was Illyana still here? Probably. With her ankle the way it was, she wouldn't be going anywhere for a few weeks, if not more. Siren knew very little about healing injuries, but she knew what a tendon was, and she knew she'd cut halfway through one. Thinking about it, her own ankle hurt. She reached down and felt the thick tube-like thing on the back of her ankle. Then she imagined it being cut. She had a lot of apologizing to do.

    The door opened a moment later, and Illyana's face stuck out. Their eyes met. Illyana looked away first. They both started to speak at once.
    "With her ankle the way it was, she wouldn't be going anywhere for a few weeks, if not more." The story didn't saw when Siren cut Illyana's ankle, in relation to 'the present' (was it two weeks ago? or a few months ago?) and that line is also vague in regard to how long ago her ankle had been cut. The sentence about how long Siren had been gone also doesn't state a specific time. The two sentences can work together, to show a relative distance in time that compliments the story, but I sugguest changing the sentence about Illyana's ankle to make that work.

    "With her ankle the way it was, she wouldn't have been able to go anywhere for a few weeks, if not more." or something similar to that shows a solid past tense, as opposed to 'wouldn't be going anywhere' which sounds like Illyana intends to leave as soon as she can. The way that you worded the sentence reads like Illyana wants to escape before Siren gets back.

    "Illyana looked away first" implies that Siren looked away second. Looking away is a subtle statement about a character's emotions in that moment. If Siren didn't look away, then you might want to change it to "Illyana looked away at first" or "Illyana quickly looked away, then there was a moment of silence before they both started to speak at once."

    Instead of only saying what's happenning, try to describe the scene that's unfolding. That will paint more of a picture in the minds of the readers and let you present the story from a specific perspective.

    "Go ahead," said Siren.

    "I'm sorry," said Illyana, edging out of the doorway. Her ankle was wrapped in cloth and held straight by a shaft of wood that stuck out the top of the wrappings. She was on crutches, her clothes had been replaced by the clinic's typical garment that looked like a pillowcase with sleeves, and her hair was neatly combed. Like many citizens, she wore a sunhat.

    "Sorry?"

    Illyana nodded, avoiding Siren's eyes. "I knew what you were, and that was why I provoked you. I was mad at someone else and took it out on you."

    "I owe you an apology, too," said Siren. "I tried to kill you."

    "Well, you're a blood angel."

    "That's no excuse. You're a dryad and you didn't steal anything--did you? From the clinic?"

    "No. I got a job, though. It pays."

    "Jobs pay. So you really can heal?"

    "I already told you I could. By the way, where did you go? I can hear your wing beats from a kilometer away, and you haven't been around for a week."

    "So you assume I fly everywhere?"

    "Those things are massive," said Illyana, pointing at Siren's wings. "Walking doesn't look all that convenient for you. I stick to trees myself. So I imagine you stick to the air."

    Siren motioned toward the southwest. "I was delivering a letter."

    "Oh."
    So far, Illyana was angry at someone and took it out on Siren by provoking her, because Siren is a blood angel (since you state here that Siren is a blood angel, it doesn't need to be said in the first paragraph). It sounds like Illyana thinks that all blood angels kill people, but Illyana still provoked Siren. So Illyana was very upset when she provoked Siren, possibly either grieving or suicidal (you imply that a blood angel did something to make Illyana upset, and Illyana thinks that all blood angels kill people).

    Siren seems to have overreacted (she tried to kill a twleve or thirteen year old). Since she had been a serial killer, and you imply that she had interactions with people that were even worse than she is/was, I assume that she would have been able to defend herself from Illyana without trying to kill her. So the implication is that Siren reacted without thinking, or Siren has a temper.

    Either way, the fact that Siren seems to be worried about Illyana shows that Siren is trying to change how she reacts (at least toward Illyana) and that Siren probably feels guilty for the way that she acted. The way that Siren speaks to Illyana in the story sounds hard, almost rude, like Siren is trying to trying to show compassing but she's also put up a wall. If feels almost like Siren is sending mixed signals to Illyana, because Siren doesn't really know how to show that she cares about Illyana. (If that's what you intended in the dialog, Good job!)

    Illyana provoked Siren, in anger, and Siren tried to kill her. If Illyana was already grieving, then her experience with Siren would probably have scared her and made her grieve more. If Illyana was only angry, then she might also have a temper. If Illyana was suicidal, then she might have been scared by the experience or fully expects Siren to kill her one day.

    Either way, it takes courage to talk to the blood angel that attacked her when she's of the opinion that all blood angels kill people.

    Illyana can hear Siren's wings from a kilometer away. You said that there are no falcons or angels to deliver messages, and you didn't state or imply that Illyana can specifically identify the sound of Siren's wings, which would differentialy it from the sound of a falcon's, angel's or another blood angel's wings. So I assume that Siren had been the only blood angel within a kilometer of Illyana since she cut Illyana's ankle.

    When Illyana opened the door to talk to Siren, it sounded like Illyana had worked through a mental process to understand that she should apologize to Siren. But she opened the door to someone who cut her, and admits to trying to kill her. Either Illyana is fearless, or she had some interaction with Siren between then and now (enough for Illyana to be reasonably certain that Siren isn't going to try to kill her) and has only now decided to apologize.

    Illyana's attitude toward Siren, and the type of interaction that they've had since the fight, can be implied by body language and the way that they speak their dialog. Try describing the scene; tell us what the characters are doing, and what they're saying. Actions can speak volumes.


    Silence followed. Siren quickly resumed the conversation.

    "So you've been around during the night? What did you think of the wind?"

    "About that," said Illyana. "I have questions. And I can't stand around like this. Can we sit down or something?"

    Siren slid down the wall and sat on the grass. Illyana rolled her eyes.

    "You're so informal."
    I don't understand what Siren is saying... if she's using an ice-breaker, the way she's saying it feels awkward. It almost sounds like Siren is asking seriously, which doesn't appear to make sense if Siren has been away for a long time and Illyana has a cut ankle. For a moment, I thought that Illyana wanted to ask questions about the wind, before I realized that Illyana probably wants to ask about the letter.

    If you change "you've" to "have you" and "did" to "do," it will sound more like an ice breaker / small talk, or if you tell us how Siren says the like, or her motivion in saying it.

    For example:
    "So you've been around during the night? What did you think of the wind?" said Siren, trying to fill the silence.

    "Siren slid down the wall and sat on the grass." sounds a little out of place. You mentioned Siren and Illyana at a doorway, but didn't mention Siren leaning against a wall. At first, I thought that Siren might be outside of Illyana's window, but then remembered that Illyana edged through the doorway. If Siren was standing against a wall, you should tell the readers that. When Illyana opened the door and her eyes met with Siren's, I assumed that Siren was standing in front of the door. Body language and actions can say things about a character's personality. If Siren started standing against the wall after Illyana stepped outside, that shows part of Siren's personality. If Siren was standing against the wall and knocked on the door with the back of her hand, and Illyana opened the door and had to peak out and look around before she saw Siren, that shows something different about Siren's personality.

    Siren slid down the wall and sat on the grass, and Illyana rolled her eyes and commented that Siren is so informal. That sounds like a comment that's made between people who know each other. Illyana's reaction implies that she has interacted with Siren enough to care that Siren is informal.

    I think it would benefit the story if you tell the audience what type of interaction Siren had with Illyana between the ankle cut and now. Did Siren visit Illyana? Did Siren help Illyana in any way? Did Siren sit near the clinic sometimes to watch over Illyana? And how did Illyana respond to Siren's actions? If Illyana behaved differently toward Siren in the past than she does now, that can be shown through each of their body language during the conversation, even starting from when Illyana opens the door.


    Illyana sat against the wall as well, close enough for comfortable conversation, far enough away to indicate that it wasn't a casual, friendly conversation. As soon as she opened her mouth to speak, a horn sounded, long and low-pitched. Siren's entire body tensed. The horn rose an octave, and Siren jumped forward, running a few steps before rising into the air. Twice a month, on a fairly regular schedule, she heard that horn, and she was usually closer than this to the gates where the rippers would converge.
    You wrote how Siren reacts to the interruption, but the story would benefit if you also showed Illyana's reaction.

    Even Siren was slightly afraid of the rippers, despite the skill that came with her race. She arrived at the south gate as guards propped planks and beams against it. She dove quickly. A quick thrust of her wings kept her from breaking her legs on impact as she stood and faced the rippers.
    You're not describing the scene enough for me to understand, at first glance, what's going on. "She dove quickly." Why? What did she dive into? A tunnel, water, the air? Where is she landing, and why does she need to use a quick thrust of her wings to stop her from breaking her legs?

    The next sentence implies that she dove over the wall, but it takes time to pick up speed if she's flying, so how high was that wall? how fast was she flying down the other side that she had to thrust her wings to slow herself down? If she jumped over the wall, and her legs are powerful enough to jump over the wall, wouldn't her legs be strong enough to support her when she lands?

    Then I think about her anatomy. A bird's bones have pockets of air inside them, which keeps the bird light and makes the bones strong enough to support the bird's body. But a bird takes off by flapping its wings, not by jumping.

    Strong muscles need strong bones, but when a person exercies it puts stress on the bones, which causes them to crack inside. When the bones recover from that, they heal by becoming more dense, and able to withstand more force (like force from stronger muscles). But when bones become denser, wouldn't they also become heavier?

    If you say that Siren dove into the air and flew over the wall so fast that she had to use thrusts of her wings to slow her down, that sounds believable and avoids the question of how her anatomy works. Unless she has supernatural abilities; if she does, it would be an idea to mention them in the story.

    The creatures' backs were turned toward her, and there were five of them. They slashed at the gate with huge, heavy claws. Calming her nerves, Siren reached out to the sides and pulled her bladed feathers free from each wing, six in total. She held them in front of her and carefully angled them at the creatures. Two for the one in the middle. One for each of the others.
    That description was good. I could follow the story without wondering what's going on.

    She pushed the blades forward. All six hit their marks, and all six rippers died.

    All six turned around and charged.

    Siren waited a few seconds, then jumped and beat wind against the creatures as she rose into the air. She flew away from Sigmora and the rippers chased her, red blades sticking out of their backs, blue blood slowly dripping from fatal wounds. She flew slowly, letting them follow her. Once they were dead, they could follow her for about ten minutes before finally realizing they were dead. In those ten minutes, she was in as much danger of being caught and dismantled as when they were alive.

    She flew for ten minutes, and then the rippers fell all at once and didn't move again.
    'Death' is usually defined as 'when the body can no longer function.' Here, it implies that the rippers only stop moving when they Realize that they're dead. ...how does that work? If they can carry on functioning even after they've dead, why do they stop when they 'realize' that they're dead? What's the significance of that?

    She landed and quickly collected her blades. She'd dump them in the forest later, with the rest of them. Why she kept them, she wasn't quite sure, but it felt right. For now, she backed away from the rippers. They were dead, of course, but though she was credited with being the most dangerous creature on the continent, she knew differently. She was horrified of death. It barely seemed like an inconvenience to rippers, and there always seemed to be more of them.

    On the flight back to Sigmora, Siren realized that she'd been trembling. She'd only been injured by the creatures once, two years ago, and had fought hundreds since. Why was she so scared of them? It was probably a variety of things, but greatest of all, she thought, was their lack of concern for their own lives. All they did was kill and eat. Kill and eat. Kill and eat. If she cut their heads off, their bodies would chase her and tear her apart without realizing they had no way to eat her. And then they'd die and collapse and crush whatever life was left out of her.

    She may be a monster, but even monsters feared bigger monsters.
    Okay, well done! I don't know how Siren's life was saved through interactions two years ago, but I assume that someone helped her during/after an attack from the rippers. It also raises a question: Was she a serial killer because she murdered people, or because she killed rippers?

    I was going to ask how Siren could function in that world without being hunted by the police, but if Siren only killed rippers, that would make her more of a hero. It doesn't tell us why Illyana provoked Siren (through if Siren is a hero, Illyana may not have been mad at a blood angel), but it does kinda say why Illyana wouldn't be terrified of Siren.

    This was a surprise twist at the end that changes the context of Siren's personality. I wasn't expecting it. Well done!


    The problems I notice:
    1. Transition between talking and fighting is awkward and feels like I randomly pulled it out just for the sake of violence.
    2. Illy and Siren are too nice to each other.
    3. The whole thing is rushed, especially the transition and the ending.

    I'll probably rewrite this part regardless of what else is wrong with it, but I'd like to make it the best I can. So, what else can I do aside from making it less violent, taking my time, and making the girls less forgiving?
    2. How the characters act toward each other are an expression of their personalities. Look at the personality that you want each character to have, and see if the character's personality is portrayed by the character's actions. Think about the character's body language; actions speak louder than words. My opinion is that Siren has a personality that doesn't contradict itself. Illyana also does not have a personality that contradicts itself, based on what I've read, but I don't know enough about her personality to determine that accurately.

  7. #7
    One Thousand Member Matt's Avatar
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    Wow. Thanks for all that. I knew chapter 4 was my clumsiest story this year, but I had no idea it was that clumsy. I rarely ever get in-depth feedback for any stories, so I really appreciate this. I'll rewrite and post up the result as soon as I can.
    Last edited by Matt; 10-08-2012 at 12:19 PM.

  8. #8
    For Sparta! zizi's Avatar
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    What a good thread! Also can I suggest that writers can ask for critique of stuff they want to work on specifically, so that critics may focus more in-depth on that subject?

    Lord knows my character's voices need extensive work (as they tend to all be rather similar), and whilst I am sure there are many, many other weaknesses in my writing I find if I concentrate all my effort on one place it improves faster than if I try to fix everything all at once.

  9. #9
    Lord of Death jubeh's Avatar
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    Good thread. Maybe we could put a tag in the first line of our posts to separate coments, writing, and critiques. It's a small thing but it would make it easier for braindead people like me to sort through the thread.
    Last edited by jubeh; 10-08-2012 at 12:25 PM.

  10. #10
    One Thousand Member Matt's Avatar
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    @ Jubeh - Good idea. I'll go back and do that.

    Also, Zizi, you should post your stuff. I'm gonna be awhile.

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