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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Writing Challenges » Ready for market challenge June

   
Author Topic: Ready for market challenge June
Nick T
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Hi everyone,
Here goes my third market challenge as chief slave-driver (I'm not sure how long I'm meant to keep going).

Please post your first thirteen in this thread by June 11th, using the following format:
Title:
Word count:
Genre:

First thirteen:

Please do not post anything else in this thread. For discussions and questions, and to see how this group works, please use the ‘Open Discussions’ thread.

I’ll post instructions in this thread as and when necessary.
For reference here’s the overall monthly cycle:

By the 11th day of the month everyone is invited to post first 13s. The earlier the better, so that people have more time to choose which stories tickle their fancy for full crits.

This week is not time for writing since the stories should be ready for market, but just recognizing that we can't all get to things immediately.

During the week after entries close, we
- grade first 13s
- request at least one manuscript (via an e-mail to the writer) of the story we'd like to read and grade (probably one whose first 13 we scored highly). The more, the better.

By the last day of the month we
- grade at least one manuscript
- grade more stories if we want to (e.g. those that have great first 13s in addition to our favourites)

The "end of the day" is the end of the day in your local time. There's no need to be more precise than that.

Cheers,

Nick


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Merlion-Emrys
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Prism Ship

Fantasy (High Fantasy/Sword and Sorcery)

3,800 words


When Jeren first saw the small figure moving slowly ahead of him across the sands, he’d given it little thought. His mind was occupied with thoughts of the Tournament—and his revenge.
He was considering which spell he’d use to end the life of his brother’s murderer when the figure, which he now realized was a young boy, swayed and then collapsed onto the sand.
Jeren reached the boy in a few long strides. He knelt down beside the motionless body, cursing his luck. He’d wanted to arrive at Deleif Retep early for the Tournament, so he could assess his opponents. But his conscience wouldn’t allow him to leave a child in the wasteland to die.
The boy looked about twelve beneath the coating of sand and dust that covered his body. Jeren pulled out a skin and dribbled water onto the child’s parched and swollen lips.


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Doc Brown
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Gallant, upon the Sea: Episode 2
"The Devil's Latitude"
Military Sci Fi
15,000 words

Dearest Mother,

By the time you read this the war will have been on for some weeks, though we men and women aboard Gallant did not know of it until tonight. The timing was horrid. Gallant was lying just thirty miles off the Malkogian coast, quite near my childhood home, when we intercepted the news by wireless. Suddenly we found ourselves deep in enemy waters.

I write to you from the telephone switching room down in the ship’s bowels. The upper decks must be kept dark. My three eldest brothers are forward, snoring happily in their bunks, dreaming of the glory and medals that war may bring. But I am not with them. Neither is Paul.

At sunset, before we knew of the war, Paul was sent on a

[This message has been edited by Doc Brown (edited June 11, 2009).]


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Meredith
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Dragons Are Forever
900 Words
Fantasy

Racela knelt and dried her brother’s tears, then hugged him close. He cried as only a small child can--as though his world had ended. Part of it had, when his favorite dragon had died that morning, misjudging a turn in the morning acrobatics display.

“Don’t cry, Joren. Garm was old. He has gone to be with the Goddess. You will see him again, someday.”

“Only beings able to use magic go to the Goddess’ presence,” Agast said, coming up behind her on the long balcony that overlooked the rainbow-colored cliffs where the dragons made their nests.

Racela closed her eyes and suppressed her anger. Of all the priests to be present today, it had to be Agast--


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Dogmatic
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God Keep
5300 words
Sci-Fi/Myth


It was on the third day of prayer and fast that they came. There were no warnings. There were no explosions, or blasts or echoes of destruction to mark their passing. They came in silence.
Aloquan sat motionless as the white pierced the darkness of the tent. It was the flood of sunlight that sent him to the ground, temporarily blinded as the tent disintegrated around him; an overloading of the senses as he covered his face with one hand, the other groping in the brightness of confusion. It was smell that came back to him first. The acrid scent of burning earth and flesh that sucked deep into his lungs as he tried to catch his breath. The taste of sweat and dirt began to fill the dry cracked edges of his mouth. He tried to spit.

[This message has been edited by Dogmatic (edited June 09, 2009).]

[This message has been edited by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (edited June 10, 2009).]


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tnwilz
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Sentenced to Innocence
Sci-Fi
15,500 words

“Brock Gossard, you have been found guilty of crimes in defiance of the Union code.” Everyone in the hospital room stood attentive as the Union Marshall in his starch stiff blue uniform read the court declaration without emotion. “Your recent conviction for violent assault therefore reactivates two previously suspended sentences for drug possession. These three convictions culminate in a prison sentence of not less than twelve years. Under the Prison Decommission Program, the court therefore orders you to undergo neuro-blanking. Are there witnesses who have confirmed the identity of the subject in custody?”
The idiot warden and his assistant stepped forward, mumbled some practiced legalese and moved to sign several papers.


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Nick T
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Hi everyone,

Time to comment on the opening 13s and select stories to critique (please adhere to the “give one to get one” etiquette for critiques if possible).

I’m pretty busy at the moment and have no story in this month’s challenge. I will only take on reviews if no on else volunteers to read your story by the 20th June. I’m also going to veto doing both 15,000 word stories (*pushes Doc Brown and Tnwilz together like reluctant teenagers*). I’ll do one, but two is pushing it time-wise for me at the moment.

As always, my critiques of the 1st 13 below are my personal responses to the opening and may be safely disregarded as my not knowing what the hell I’m talking about. I’ve offered suggestions, but they may not be appropriate to shape the story you want to tell.

Regards,

Nick


Prism Ship


Is it necessary to use so many passive constructions in the opening? I think you could probably eliminate most of them by simply stating:

quote:
When Jaren saw the small figure moving slowly head of him across the sands, he gave it little thought. Thoughts of the tournament –and his revenge – etc.
.

By changing the event to the present instead of a mini-flashback, I think it makes it much easier to use active sentence construction. Waiting until “Jeren reached the boy…” to move into the present makes the opening paragraph pretty convoluted.

You could probably leave it unsaid that his conscience cannot let him leave a child in the wasteland to die…it’s pretty clear from his actions.

Outside the technical aspects, I like the set-up. We have two unanswered questions without artificial withholding. I’d read on.

Gallant, upon the Sea: Episode 2

I like the voice, but I’m not sure I could read 15,000 words of it. The danger with letters is that it is very hard to avoid “telling” since that’s the natural voice of a letter.

Logically, there’s quite a bit of “as you know Mother” in the opening. Why wouldn’t his mother know that Malkogian is near his childhood home? And wouldn’t he refer to his eldest brothers by name?

I’m not a nautical person *at all*, but is a telephone switching room the right technical term? The time span seems to be 1800s (just from feel, there’s no clues apart from the use of “wireless”). I guess a telegram room would be more appropriate, though I’m sure someone around here will know the right term for whatever you think it is.

Given the implied content of the letter (Mum, Paul is behind enemy lines!), would the author really give the details he does (i.e. the dark upper decks, the telephone switching room, etc.) before delivering the bad news? I would imagine he’d introduce the news and then spend time defusing its seriousness if he’s writing to his mother.


Dragons Are Forever


Not much I can see that would prevent me from reading on. The action tag following Agast speaking is too long for easy reading…I’d separate the description from the action of Agast speaking and moving (rainbow colored cliffs seem unlikely to me btw, but I don’t think it’s a big problem for a slush reader).

Wouldn’t Racela know that only beings that use magic go to the goddess? It seems like Agast may be stating the obvious, though I’d probably give it the benefit of the doubt since Agast seems to be stating the obvious for reasons of moral censure.

God Keep

Nothing to stop me reading here. Some minor nits include:

1) I s it their passing or their entrance that is unmarked? Passing implies that they’ve come and gone, whereas what you’re talking about (in an earlier version of the 1st 13 which I’ve read somewhere) is their entrance.

2) I’d personally cut “There were no warnings”. The point is made by the lack of explosions, blasts, etc.

3) You could underwrite the scene where Aloquan sits in the tent. I’d probably start with the flood of sunlight (and why not make it active? i.e. “A flood of sunlight in the darkness sent him to the ground…”) I don’t think you need to mention the overloading of the senses if you have him covering his face with one hand as it’s clear what’s happening.

“Groping in the brightness of confusion…” is a bit meaningless if taken in isolation (i.e. what is a “brightness of confusion”). You’ve established that the light is blinding and his actions establish everything else you need to do here IMO.

4)I’d remove the “that” from the line started “the acrid scent of dirt…” It doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence if removed. Otherwise, a nice sensory detail.

5) Instead of “began to fill the dry cracked…” how about “The taste of sweat and dirt flooded the dry cracked (is dry redundant if your lips cracked?)

All in all, nice work.

Sentenced to Innocence

“Brock Gossard, you have been found guilty of crimes in defiance of the Union code.” Everyone in the hospital room stood attentive as the Union Marshall in his starch stiff blue uniform read the court declaration without emotion. “Your recent conviction for violent assault therefore reactivates two previously suspended sentences for drug possession. These three convictions culminate in a prison sentence of not less than twelve years. Under the Prison Decommission Program, the court therefore orders you to undergo neuro-blanking. Are there witnesses who have confirmed the identity of the subject in custody?”
The idiot warden and his assistant stepped forward, mumbled some practiced legalese and moved to sign several papers.

I tend to prefer dialogue after a little establishing scene-setting, but this works.

I’d probably simply say the union marshall’s uniform is starched (that’s enough for me to picture him).

The “idiot” warden seems a little out of place because it hasn’t been firmly fixed that we’re in Brock’s POV yet. Is it possible to establish the POV before the speech? Not a big issue, but I personally like POV to be establish really early. Generally a good set-up, though I’m slightly wary of “neuro-blanking” being the central conceit of the story.

Nick

[This message has been edited by Nick T (edited June 11, 2009).]


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Merlion-Emrys
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Gallant, Upon the Sea-7


Nothing wrong with the writing, my only objection at all is that theres no hint of anything "speculative" and in fact it comes across almost like a historical story. Thats not necessarily inherently bad but when combined with the letter writing framework its less interesting than it could be, for me.


Dragons are Forever-8


Well we've got dragons and we've got a snooty priest that desperately needs to be pelted with razor-sharp rabbits. What else could one want?


God Keep-7


Shouldn't passing be coming? Maybe? Its nicely written, good imagery, but just a little confusing as to whats going on and why this person is surviving whatever it is. Although I assume some of that will become clear in the next few lines.


Sentenced to Innocence-8

Pretty good. I dislike the whole "mind wipe as punishment" concept, but the writing is fine. My only beef would be that when he asks if there are witnesses there is no answer.


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Meredith
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First 13:

Prism Ship - 8

A wizards' tournament, a murdered brother, and a half-dead lost boy. You just know something interesting is going to happen.

Gallant, Upon the Sea - 6

I'm interested in all these brothers on the same ship. But, so far, it sounds like WWII. The letter may not be the most interesting place to start. You're trying to force some backstory in. It might be better to give us a hint of the magic/science going on.

God Keep - 7

Indians and destructive aliens makes an interesting premise.

Sentenced to Innocence - 7

Looks like an interesting premise. I'm concerned about having anything like a sympathetic character, though. So far, I don't care about any of them. If I don't somehow care about one of the characters soon--either rooting for them or against them--I'm unlikely to read on.


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Dogmatic
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Hi all,
It's amazing how much I learn about writing by reading everybody's first 13. I find things that I'm guilty of and then find things that I wish I had written. Thanks for sharing.


PRISM SHIP
He was considering which spell he’d use to end the life of his brother’s murderer when the figure, which he now realized was a young boy, swayed and then collapsed onto the sand.
I wasn’t sure if the young boy is also the brother’s murder. It seems like you’re mixing up two subjects in this sentence.

He’d wanted to arrive at Deleif Retep early for the Tournament, so he could assess his opponents. But his conscience wouldn’t allow him to leave a child in the wasteland to die.
I would change the period after opponents to a comma since it’s a continuous thought.

I think it’s a nice setup and grabs your attention. I would read on. Actually that’s why I asked for a copy to read. More to come. Thanks.


GALLANT UPON THE SEA
I agree with Nick on the “childhood home “ line. It just reads like exposition. I find that writing in a letter format is difficult because there’s a needed familiarity when writing to a loved one, especially a mother or even a distant familiarity. It reads more like a story than a letter.

I’m a little confused about the setting. The use of “Wireless” and “Telephone Switching Room” give it an older feel.

My three eldest brothers are forward, snoring happily in their bunks, dreaming of the glory and medals that war may bring. But I am not with them.
Wouldn’t mom know his brothers are older? Again, this info is more for the reader than the mother.

I wasn’t hooked, however I would read on at least a few more paragraphs to see if it pulled me in.


DRAGONS ARE FOREVER
I sent you my notes as few as there were. Good job.


SENTENCED TO INNOCENCE
I agree with Nick about the “idiot warden” line and the POV. I don’t mind it starting the way you do but I would want to get to Brock or your main POV sooner. I’m also not to crazy about the title. It seems a bit to contrived like a Mickey Spilane novel but it may work after reading the story.

I’m not sure I would keep reading at this point, nothing pulled me in. I would want more character emotion or scene mood in the first 13 and less set up.



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tnwilz
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Prism Ship

Writing could be smoother to read but not bad. When I read Tournament and revenge I'm not expecting a particularily original story, but that reaction doesn't mean much at this point. I'm not a fan of contractions in narrative unless the story sticks to a very internal voice which is going to be just shy of first person. But that's me. Your MC is planning to murder someone, that isn't an incidental thing and his emotional conflict and severe anxiety should be apparent. This needs to be read aloud and some of the abruptness of the narrative smoothed. Imaginative and I would keep reading. Good job.

The Devil's Latitude

Good writing here. Not sure how realistic the letter sounds but I don't know the character yet so it may fit his way of thinking and speaking. It reads a little more like first person story narrative than a letter to dear old Mom. I would read on.

Dragons Are Forever

Writing is good and smooth. I like contractions in dialog. It makes it read realistically and when they are missing many readers will quickly notice since it's generally expected. If she says, He has, instead of He's and You will, instead of You'll, she should also say Do not, instead of Don't. This is of course a debatable writing style opinion. To dry another's tears is generally far more a figure of speech than a literal action. It reads as if she literally spent time dabbing away tears which I don't believe I have ever seen anyone do in real life. I'm sure some have but it made it melodramatic for me. Nice set up and good writing. I would read on.

God Keep

Fine writing that reads smoothly. This opening raises many questions. How does a tent thick enough to block all sunlight just vaporise. Should it be, "Passing" or "arrival"? Are they already gone? I'm unsure of the situation. Good set up and I would read on.

Sorry if I repeated any other comments but I didn't read the others because I wanted to give uncolored reaction.

Tracy

[This message has been edited by tnwilz (edited June 14, 2009).]


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Merlion-Emrys
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I will preface this by saying that very-shorts/flash is not really my best area.


Dragons are Forever

Story Overall-7

I liked the idea and the presentation, there was just a little lack of clarity here and there


Plot-8

The basic idea is great, just a little clearer exposition would be good.


Character development-8

I thought the characters were pretty well drawn for such a short piece.


Milieu-7

I got a sense of the place. In a story this short you can't really super-develop everything.


Dialogue-8

I liked the main characters especially. The priests was a little predictable and stilted, but I think thats kind of the point.


Writing Style-8


Action- I don't think this catagory really applies here.


Disbelief-9

No problems here, everything is consistent in itself.


Unique-8

I've never really seen these particular issues presented in this way before.


Understandable-7


While I knew what was going on, when the main character is speaking of the dragon spirit phenomena its not always entirely clear. Its also not made clear exactly what it is that happens.


Ending-9

Perfect.

Really the only issue I can find with this story is that when shes talking about dragons dying infrequently and seeing "this" happen, its unclear whether she's talking about dragons dying, or the vision/manifestation of their spirits. Also, a little more on exactly what that is and the like might be good. Very nicely done though.

Very nicely done.


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Meredith
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Prism Ship

Character Development - 7

I had a good feel for all three characters. Jeren’s reaction when he learns he’s wasted the last seven years is well-handled.

Plot - 8

Everything seemed to flow logically, without feeling forced.

Satisfactory Ending - 8

I liked Jeren gaining a purpose from the boy he helped. It felt nicely rounded out.

Milieu - 7

I had a good feel for the milieu. A little more detail about the tournament and what is at stake for the other participants is the only element that’s missing for me. What does the sorceress get out of it? Is there some prize? Jeren wouldn’t care. But since the sorceress is not what he expects, what is her motive?

Willing Suspension of Disbelief - 8

There was no point that jarred me out of the story to question a detail or action.

Unique/Never Been Done Before - N/A

I don’t feel I’ve read enough short stories to judge this adequately. All I can say is I’ve never read of anything similar to the prism ships.

Writing Style - 7

There were a couple of places where a word choice stopped me. But the overall style is very engaging.

Dialogue - 7

There’s not a lot of dialogue. Jeren’s is a little formal, but that feels like part of his character, so it fits.

Action - 7

The action flowed well and wasn’t interrupted by any unnecessary description.

Understandable - 8

There was no point at which I felt lost or unsure what was going on.

Story Overall - 8

I like this story. And I wouldn't mind finding out what happens to these characters later on.


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Dogmatic
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DRAGONS ARE FOREVER
Story Overall-7
I enjoyed the read. It’s hard to get much depth to a short piece but in the end felt is was a nice sweet story.

Plot-6
The short form doesn’t allow for a fully developed plot line but rather a commentary or “one joke” plot (one joke is not meant as a negative) which you accomplished.+

Character development-6
Another difficulty in short form but I thought you did a good job for the limited word count.

Milieu-8
I felt your description and imagery were very good.

Dialogue-7
I liked the mom’s voice. The priest could have been a bit more stylized but then again the idea of the piece is more important than the character.

Writing Style-8
Although there didn’t seem to be anything unique in the writing style it was still good and sometimes the best thing a writer can do is stay out of the way of the story.

Action- I agree, not much to say here.

Disbelief-9
There’s a dead dragon. What’s not to believe? Now if you said there was such things as a live dragon I would have wondered.

Unique-7
I always like blending the spiritual with the fantasy, maybe not unique but well done.

Understandable-8
I understood what was happening but I wouldn’t mind a bit more color from the piece. You have room to liven it up a bit.

Ending-8
You got out of it nicely, made your point and didn’t try to drive it home too much. Good job.


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Dogmatic
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PRISM SHIP
Story Overall-7.5
Good solid piece. Well written and the story moved along.

Plot-6
I felt the plot could have been a little better. The revenge kind of came and went and then it shifted to the Prism Ship. No big surprise or revelation especially for the boy. It did however read well as a set up for a bigger story.

Character development-7
Your main character was well done, I didn’t get a strong sense of the boy of the Oroza.

Milieu-8
Very good.

Dialogue-8
I thought the dialogue was consistent and fit the piece well.

Writing Style-8
The best part about your story was the writing and imagery. Your descriptions of the ship and the battle could have been overdone or repetitive but you kept it interesting and flowing well.

Action- I agree, not much to say here.

Disbelief-9
It felt good all the way through but I don’t really know how to rate this one.

Unique-6
Revenge and a magic tournament; not overly unique but still enjoyable

Understandable-8
Other than in the beginning of who the boy was I had no problem with understanding it. Again the battler description kept me involved in the fight.

Ending-6
Other than riding off into the sunset there was no real punch in the end for me. The lesson came after the fight and the prism ship was just a long afterthought. I almost felt like there were two stories here, or like I said a setup for another tale. But any of the negative comments are minor. I still enjoyed reading your story. I think some of these comments that I’m writing here are additional to the ones I emailed you since I’ve had some time for the story to sink in.


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Doc Brown
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My impressions of the first thirteens:

Prism Ship - 4

Some good imagery and exposition are spoiled by rambling passive constructions and arbitrary punctuation.

Jeren’s chivalrous nature appears throughout. It presents internal conflict with his stated motivation in the story – revenge is not particularly chivalrous. Could be fascinating.

Clean up the wordsmithing and I believe you’ve got a great tale to tell.


Dragons Are Forever - 5

A fine setting with just the right level of conflict to start. I also love the title.

You should consider using stronger words to paint your images. For example “long balcony” is dull, as is the description of the dragon’s death. Did Joren or Racela witness the accident? Was it violent or even horrific? Did Garm die in pain? A little detail here could help bond the reader to the characters.

Dragons Are Forever looks like a fun read.

God Keep - 7

This story starts with a bang!

I see no stylistic flaws here, the writing is crisp and vivid.

This short sample is not enough to give me a bond with Aloquan, but the writing style is good enough to keep me turning the pages.

Sentenced to Innocence - 6

This is a spiffy title. The opening is at a high level of conflict, which is wonderful. The only trick to such a tense opening is that it can be a very tricky spot for exposition, and here you fall flat. Descriptions like “stiff blue uniform” and “without emotion” don’t measure up to the level of tension you’ve already established. This is a spot for quick, punchy narrative.

Also, because the Union Marshall is so verbose I don’t get a chance to see whose POV you are using. Based on the last sentenced, I *think* this is a first person story from Brock’s POV, but I can’t tell for certain. If it is a first person story, I find it very unusual that I could not tell from the first sentence.

That said, your first thirteen *do* get me to sympathize with Brock. That is quite an accomplishment in such a short span. Well done.


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Merlion-Emrys
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Some of these comments further deepen my confusion as to the difference between "passive" and past tense.
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Dogmatic
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I share your confusion with "passive" and "past tense". No one has given me a clear rule or definition of them; something like "I before E except after C" or "don't stick your tongue in that" I understand what past tense is and I've seen samples online of passive and active but nothing that solidifies it for me. Maybe that's why the gods made Editors and Hatrack.
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Meredith
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Well, the first sentence could have been "he gave" (active) instead of "he had (he'd) given" (passive). And "he considered" is more active than "he was considering", but it doesn't fit with the rest of the sentence as well as what you wrote. You're setting a scene, not starting in the middle of a battle.

And this strikes me as another one of those rules which are good to know and follow most of the time, but not to chain yourself to. There are times and places for all tenses or they wouldn't exist.

And I don't see anything wrong with the punctuation.

[This message has been edited by Meredith (edited June 16, 2009).]


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Merlion-Emrys
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I think you're right Meredith. I think I probably will change "he'd given" to "he gave" but I agree with you on the considering part. It may be a touch passive but I think it sounds better as is. Active mostly sounds better than passive but I feel the overall flow of the sentence takes precedence.

Thanks everybody for your thoughts on that.


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Doc Brown
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Merlion-Emrys, looking back I no longer believe this is an active / passive problem. It's a matter of the simple past vs the past perfect tense, and it is not really the big problem. The past perfect tense is useful but wordy. Overuse makes sentences convoluted and difficult to read but you do not overuse it here.

In the case of your first thirteen, your opening paragraph has three barely related sentences. That is already a strain on the reader, so you should keep your sentences as tight as possible.

So the past perfect construction ". . . he'd given it little thought" is probably appropriate for this case. Your first sentence is setting the scene. Then before you finish that process you give us the second and third sentences, which are all backstory and foreshadowing. These should probably be removed from the first paragraph. Finish setting the scene around Jeren before telling us these complicated thoughts in his head.

For the record, my first thirteen are nothing but backstory, scene setting, and character development. Not one word tells the plot of this story. In OSC's MICE quotient, I was gambling that the milieu depicted in the letter to mom would be sufficient to pique the reader's interest.

[This message has been edited by Doc Brown (edited June 18, 2009).]


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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The term "passive" has a very definite meaning in writing, and it is not connected to past tense or past perfect tense or any tense at all.

This is one of my soapboxes, but I'm not going to step on it here.

If you really would like to learn what passive is truly all about, please go here where you will find some links to topics that discuss passive and that it actually is.


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Merlion-Emrys
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Thanks, I will check that out at some point.

For the record, I do realize that "passive" isn't related to tense. However, a lot of times when someone tells me something I've written is "passive" to me it seems that it simply is past tense and i'm not sure how to change one without changing the other. I realize though that this is due to some lack of knowledge on my and/or the commentors part.

quote:
So the past perfect construction ". . . he'd given it little thought" is probably appropriate for this case. Your firstr sentence is setting the scene. Then before you finish that process you give us the second and third sentences, which are all backstory and foreshadowing. These should probably be removed from the first paragraph. Finish setting the scene around Jeren before telling us these complicated thoughts in his head.


Kind of funny since that would go against the traditional wisdom (at least around here) that there needs to be tension in the first 13 and that there should be a connection to what your character is thinking and feeling.

I see it as setting the scene both internally and externally, establishing tension/conflict and most importantly telling whats happening in the story at that point.

That aside, and not for that reason, I think other than the fact that I've already removed the part talking about his conscience, the opening has recieved pretty positive response and I'm personally happy with it, so I'm focusing on a little polish to the rest of the story right now.

[This message has been edited by Merlion-Emrys (edited June 16, 2009).]


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Meredith
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Gallant Upon the Sea, The Devil's Lattitude

Story Overall - 6

I like this story, but I think there’s still some work to do on it. I think you have a choice to make. You can string the episodes together and turn this into a novel or novella. To make it a stand alone story, you have to reestablish the milieu and the characters. If it stands alone, there’s a lot that can be cut that doesn’t directly bear on the main story line. You could cut this by at least a third by concentrating on one thing.

Character Development - 6

The characters are believable, for the most part. There are an awful lot of them and they don’t all feel sufficiently differentiated, partly because some of them just aren’t in it for long enough. Consider which you can cut from this story. Hellburn comes to mind. He doesn’t have that much to do, really. I don’t even need to know about the rest of the brothers if only Sunburn, Dashburn, and Crashburn are going to have any role. And I’m not sure what purpose the “Bish” serves. I actually started to wonder if he was a Malk spy, the way he kept turning up wherever Sunburn went. And he didn’t seem to be doing much for morale. If this is meant to stand alone, I'd lose Cricket and the powder magazine episode, too.

No characters seem to make much internal movement or change in this story. The nearest is Sunburn. That could be developed a little more.

Plot - 5

The argument between the admiral and the captain almost ruined it for me. It did not seem to have much to do with the main story and it damaged the believability of the whole thing.

The plot also wanders away from the main problem quite a lot for a short story. You can get away with more of that in a novel, where you have subplots. Short stories are usually tighter.

I have strategic issues with the flagship being sent on this kind of mission anyway, even in peace time. Who’s minding the rest of the fleet? I’m not an expert, but I wouldn’t think that the admiral could abandon the fleet any more than the captain could go haring off in one of his launches.

Also, given the threat of being shot, I would expect to see some reluctance to help on the part of the “guests”. Enlightened self-interest might overcome it, but there should be some resentment. I don’t know why such an extreme measure is necessary, so I’m sure they don’t. At least the woman doesn’t.

Satisfactory Ending - 5

The problem that’s solved at the end is not the problem that’s posed in the beginning. In the beginning, the problem is that Crashburn hasn’t returned. But the problem that’s solved at the end is why their guns keep missing the enemy ships. If this story stands alone, the problem of aiming the guns needs to be nearer the beginning.

And the wordplay/joke at the end falls short, given the situation.

Milieu - 7

I totally believed the milieu of the battleship. But, once you have that WWI/WWII setting, it makes the appearance of the earth people stranger. There’s nothing in this story, by itself, to help me understand that part of the premise.

Willing Suspension of Disbelief - 6

I was jarred by the threat to kill the “guests” and the officer that saved them. It seemed to come out of nowhere.

I had a real trouble with senior officers having an argument, let alone a shootout, in the middle of a battle. I would expect them to have more self-control than that.

Unique/Never Been Done Before - N/A

I haven’t read enough short stories in the genre to make a judgment on this. I like the premise, though.

Writing Style - 8

There were a few minor nits. It just needs a good proof reading. But the style overall was very good.

Dialogue - 7

I know you’re creating a unique dialect for this world. For the most part it worked. In one or two places, though, it got a bit stiff. “And verily is the time inopportune to discuss it.”, for example. That's not a sentence I can really hear anyone say in actual conversation, let alone in the middle of a battle.

Action - 8

The action sequences were very believable and exciting.

Understandable - 5

If this is meant to stand alone, you have to reestablish the premise. Without the synopsis, I wouldn’t have had a clue what was going on. You can’t assume that readers of this story will have read the first unless they’re meant to stick together, like a novel or a novella. I know how tough this is. I’m trying to do the same thing with the second novel in a series. But, if they’re supposed to stand alone, you have to establish the premise and characters all over again.


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Doc Brown
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Meredith, thank you very much for your feedback.

Please remember that this is not a short story. It is a novelette, which has a different structure, multiple plotlines, and a larger number of named characters. It was my need for these things that drove me to write novelettes instead of short stories.

[This message has been edited by Doc Brown (edited June 18, 2009).]


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Doc Brown
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Merlion-Emrys wrote:
quote:
Kind of funny since that would go against the traditional wisdom (at least around here) that there needs to be tension in the first 13 and that there should be a connection to what your character is thinking and feeling.

True, but that wisdom presumes that the character is thinking / feeling something in reaction to the present scene. In your first thirteen the reader wants to know how Jeren feels about the collapsing twelve-year-old boy, but you only reveal his feelings about some unrelated (though important) event.


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Meredith
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quote:
Please remember that this is not a short story. It is a novelette, which has a different structure, multiple plotlines, and a larger number of named characters. It was my need for these things that drove me to write novelettes instead of short stories.

Okay. That changes some of my comments, but not much. If this is meant to stand alone as a novelette, apart from episode one, you still need to reestablish the premise and the characters. The fact that you felt you needed to send the synopsis tells me you really already know that. And, as noted, there are still some plot elements that strain my credulity to the breaking point. If there's a long-standing feud between the captain and the admiral that would explain what happens, there's nothing in this story to tell me that.


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Meredith
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God Keep

Character Development - 7

Aloquan was well-developed. I understood his feelings and his dilemmas, struggling to decide where his duty was strongest. We weren’t really given much chance to know any of the other characters or even what Aloquan thinks of them. Just how he reacts to their actions, not what he thinks or feels about them as individuals.

Plot - 6

I had two problems with the plot.

The aliens appeared to behave in an illogical manner--first destroying everything in sight, then turning out to be collectors. It doesn’t make sense to me.

Aloquan cannot be asked to choose between plans when he doesn’t know both plans. If he knows what Wolf proposes, he should also know what Coyote proposes. This is a form of withholding.

Satisfactory Ending - 6

It could be a good ending--if I understood how we got there.

Milieu - 8

The milieu was well established. That’s not easy to do with a story that starts in the middle of what the POV character considers a supernatural attack. I understood the life of the village and its people.

Willing Suspension of Disbelief - 5

You never gave any hint at why the aliens would start by destroying everything and then start collecting things. It doesn’t seem like a very efficient way to collect, if that’s what they’re after. I know Aloquan wouldn’t know this. But it’s a logical inconsistency that interferes with my suspension of disbelief.

Unique/Never Been Done Before - N/A

I haven’t read enough short stories in the genre to make a valid judgment. I found the premise interesting.

Writing Style - 6

There were too many errors for a story that’s supposed to be ready for market--typos, grammatical errors, and errors in word choice (chard is a vegetable, not a description of something that has been burned). There are also places where you suddenly shift from past tense to present tense. That’s jarring.

Errors aside, the writing style is appropriate for the story.

Dialogue - 7

There’s not much dialogue. What there is, is fine.

Action - 6

The action involving Aloquan is done well. What he witnesses is not quite as compelling. We know what he thinks about it and not much about what actually happens.

Understandable - 4

I had no idea what the plan was or why coyote’s blood was necessary. Since Aloquan was at the council, he should know the plan. Wolf’s plan was discussed; Coyote’s should be, too. And Aloquan should not be asked to choose a plan without knowing what they are. This is withholding.
I had to guess at what made the aliens change their minds. That may be alright, since Aloquan might not be certain. But I should know why he thinks writing with coyote’s blood all over the inside of the space ship will make a difference. I didn’t.

Story Overall - 6

I like this story, but it needs some more work before it’s ready.

[This message has been edited by Meredith (edited June 18, 2009).]


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Doc Brown
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"Sentenced to Innocence"

Character Development - 5

Your names make the characters difficult to distinguish. (three of the women have names that start with an "s" sound, Marteen has a feminine name). This dilutes your efforts to character development.

Sarah is well done, but you have room to grow Celestine, Samara, and especially Bree (see Satisfactory Ending below). If all four women in his life are as dynamic as Sarah I believe the story will throb with excitement. Celestine and Samara express themselves almost 100% through dialogue, while Sarah and Bree are women of action. It was a great moment when Sarah left Gilbert behind. Why not give Celestine and Samara similar action scenes?

Was it intentional that Jordan disappeared from the story as soon as Sarah and Bree appeared? Perhaps you realized that there were too many female characters about the same age?


Plot - 4

The plot has many attractive features, but it is not riveting. The conflict is subdued, the tension does not rise as much as it could, and when it does rise it is released too quickly. This is all my opinion, of course.

<b>Satisfactory Ending - 7[/b]

I was left wondering about Bree's motivation. I assume she came to Saychelle looking for Brock, right? It seemed her effort to hide their past relationship was doomed to fail. If she really wanted to hide it she should have had a better plan. But if she didn't want to hide it why did she try?

Otherwise this story wraps up nicely. The ending works.

Milieu - 7

The milieu has plenty of familiar cues, with your own excellent additions. The downside of using a very safe milieu is that you will get dinged a few points for uniqueness (below).

Why is there no artificial intelligence in your world? Where are the robots and computers? Humans seem to do work better suited to machines.


Willing Suspension of Disbelief - 8

You had me. Nice work on this front.


Unique/Never Been Done Before - 6

Both the setting and the unusual family situations are reminiscent of Speaker for the Dead. I can't fault you for that because it is one of my all-time favorite books. However I can point out that it lessens the uniqueness of your story.

Still, your special take on it, using a sci-fi element to give Brock / Remo two different lives on two different worlds, makes this story above average.


Writing Style - 5

The style starts out bumpy but smooths out about halfway through. It appears that you began writing from the beginning of the story and your writing improved as you went. Frankly, I advise you to cut the opening scene entirely (pp 1 -5) and re-write a lot of the exposition (pp 5 - 26) in your improved style. There are still some punctuation errors (missing question marks) and malapropisms (their / they're) that you could easily fix. Let me know if you want an annotated document.

Dialogue - 5

The dialogue is very well written (I give the dialogue itself an 7, it would get an 8 if the characters weren't so stuffy and direct). But in my opinion you abuse the dialogue by relying on it for a huge amount of exposition. You could have the characters' actions speak for them more than you do. As it is, most of the characters' actions involve doing their mundane jobs. They seldom do things that express themselves.


Action - 4

This is a fairly cerebral story, there is almost no action and the tension is all emotional. Not automatically a bad thing, but you could have more action scenes. Action does not always mean violence.

Understandable - 8

Crystal clear. In fact, all the foreshadowing about Remo's true identity deflated a good plot twist before it came. Perhaps this story could use a bit of obfuscation.


Story Overall - 6

This is a story worth telling so please keep working on it. The idea of Brock / Remo having two lives in two worlds is brilliant.

[This message has been edited by Doc Brown (edited June 24, 2009).]


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Doc Brown
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"Dragone Are Forever"

Character Development - 6

There isn't much room for character development in such a short piece, but the four on-stage characters have definite roles and meaningful relationships. I love the name of your priest. I wish I had thought of it!

Plot - 5

The plot is just about right for this length story. There is a suitable dramatic arc with conflict, tension, and climax. Nevertheless, the resolution is a bit dissatisfying. The problem is that the main protagonist is mostly passive. Racela does almost nothing to cause the happy ending. See next comment.

Satisfactory Ending - 7

The ending does not quite live up to the promise of the rest of the story. I do not know how to fix in it the context of your milieu, but the resolution would be more satisfying if Racala somehow manipulated Agast into seeing the apparition.

Another problem is that the title takes the surprise out of the ending. I like the title though, it's cute.


Milieu - 7

The milieu is easily familiar to fantasy readers. No problem here, but it's a little short on originality.


Willing Suspension of Disbelief - 7

The story is believable. It would be more believable if we shared some of Joren's sadness, shock, or even horror at Garm's death. Is is as if your narrator is withholding some of the story's emotion for reasons that you never explain.


Unique/Never Been Done Before - 4

The setting is cliche. There is probably nothing you can do about that, since the story would not work in another setting. The plot is also a pretty standard inter-generational / theological sparring in which the young underdog prevails. Of course in a piece this short you cannot do a lot of world-building.


Writing Style - 6

The style is completely readable and the pace is fine. You do a fine job mixing narration, dialogue, internal monologue, and action into the narrative.


Dialogue - 7

Your dialogue efficiently handles exposition and character development . . . except for the first sentence. "Don't cry, Joren," seems a little insensitive. But within a few lines we know that Racela is a sensitive girl. A sensitive big sister might say: "Go ahead and cry, Joren."


Action - 7

Everything in this story is a tiny dose, including the action. But both the amount and the level of the action are fine.


Understandable - 8

I had no problem understanding this story.


Story Overall - 6

Make Racela a bit more active and sensitive and I think you'll have a real winner here. It was a pleasure to read.

[This message has been edited by Doc Brown (edited June 30, 2009).]


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Merlion-Emrys
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God Keep

The ending of this story quite honestly irked and irritated me a bit, but I'm going to try and be as objective as I can, as I do also have a few somewhat more objective issues with it.

Story Overall-5

I liked several things about this story (the dialogue between the animal-gods, some aspects of the writing style) but it definitely has some issues, in my opinion at least.


Character Development-6


The MC was reasonbly well developed, although since we mostly get information about him and his people/world in sort of jerky fits and starts its hard to be sure. I think the characters of the animal gods were pretty decent.


Plot-5

So we have a "primitive" people that get invaded by aliens(?) and shot up and all and then...I'm honestly not totally sure exactly what happens. Also, while I don't usually have an issue with this, the begining for me dragged a good bit. The aliens(?) land and shoot the place up, then we have a lot of running and taking cover and stuff...


Milieu-6

If you keep the end as it is...and probably even if you don't...I think it should be made clearer earlier that this is supposed to be Earth and that they are supposed to be native americans as oposed to a similar culture on another world (leastways, I am assuming this is the case based on the end.)


Disbelief-7

Didn't really have any problems here.


Unique-5

Primitives encounter aliens is nothing new. Your ending was not the standard, but since I dont really know what exactly happened I can't really comment on that in that context. Note however that I don't consider it being nothing new inherently a negative.


Writing Style-6

A mixed bag. Parts I liked, some was rather choppy though and there are some errors. Information is doled out somewhat haphazardly and there are some words used in ways unfamiliar to me.


Dialogue-7

There wasn't much but what there was seemed decent enough for the context.


Action:

This is another weird catagory for me. And this is kind of a weird story and I'm a bit tired so I'm not going to try for this one.


Understandable-7

Fine except for the end(s)


Ending-4


To me this hand two endings. The first one, the appearance of the monolith, basically didn't make sense to me or seem to resolve things. Who were the "gods/aliens"? What actually happened? Why did they destroy the village, then take samples, then leave and leave a stone monolith behind after what the MC did in the ship?

The second ending...well honestly it annoyed me. I found the thrown-in "God"/Judeo-Christianity bashing to be rather tacked on. It didn't seem to have any purpose in the story. If you wanted to write something with this theme it should have been woven through the story rather than consisting of (in my opinion) a rather one-sided narrow view dig tacked on to the end.


If I've totally misinterpreted it then I apologize. I'm not trying to be abrasive or impede your right to express your views through your writing, just expressing my opinion that beside the fact that I don't really agree with it, I don't think it succeeded very well.

Edit: I basically agree with everything Meredith says about the technical stuff, writing style, witholding etc. I'd also add that the earth/fire goddess is rather confusing, since she's refered to as one then depicted and refered to as the other.

[This message has been edited by Merlion-Emrys (edited June 26, 2009).]


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tnwilz
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How does the rating system work? Was it outlined somewhere before because if I gave a story a 5 or 6 out of 10 that means it was not good at all and since the scoring is all over the place I clearly don't understand. I wouldn't give any of the first 13's in this thread less than a 7 and most an 8 or 9. To me a 5 would be like a high school effort. A 7 would be this probably isn't publishable but not far off. An 8 would be your in the Zone and a 9 I reckon you could place this with the right magazine. A 10 would be, you're wasting your time hanging around this group because we're more likely to mislead you than help.

Doc, while I've not read Speaker for the Dead, I read the synopsis online and could find no correlation at all between the two stories. Not a single common thread beyond the two arms and two legs and breathing air but I don't think anybody would cry plagiarism on that front. I would like to change whatever it was that you thought unoriginal or borrowed from OSC. My story is about a futuristic solution to the ineffectivness of penitenuaries and possible side effects of such a solution. Speaker for the Dead is about a man who goes and gives speeches for dead people and Piggies and sentient trees. If there was any memory wiping in the story, it wasn't in the synopsis. If there was any memory wiping as a system of justice it was an incredibly bad synopsis. I don't want people to think I stole the idea so if you could let me know on that so I can make changes or give it up as obviously done. The points you made were very helpful in establishing common threads in the crits I've received, thank you.

If someone could post a link or outline the scoring I'd appreciate it because I don't want to be misleadingly positive or outright insulting to the point a writer decide they have no talent at all.

Tracy


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Meredith
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In going back on earlier versions of this thread, the rating system I found was:

1-3 Not yet ready for market

4-6 Might be ready, needs a little work

7-9 Wow! Ready.

That, at least, is what my ratings were based on.


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Doc Brown
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Tracy, it was only the setting and family situation of Speaker for the Dead that I compared to "Sentenced to Innocence." Speaker uses the familiar setting of a small group of scientist / colonists on a faraway planet connected to the rest of humanity by an ansible link and rare visits by spaceships. This is like your story. The main family we get to know in Speaker has an unusual paternity situation that questions traditional family roles, also like your story. Things are further disrupted when a spaceship brings a lone visitor with a very unusual past to the planet. To me the similarities are obvious, though not damning.

The distant planet with a handful of scientist / colonists is a tried and true SF trope. For me, the wildest mind-bending story placed in such a setting would never score higher than a 7 for the "Never Been Done Before" score. So what?

I would only give The Godfather a 5 for "Never Been Done Before" - plenty of similar gangster stories were written decades earlier. This doesn't hurt The Godfather at all. In my opinion it is one of the greatest books of the 20th century.


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Doc Brown
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ATTENTION MEREDITH AND TRACY

Apparently I got confused somewhere. I thought these ratings were on a scale from 1 to 8. I see now that last summer we used a scale from 1 to 10. So for all the scores I awarded, please give yourselves a 25% boost.

Sorry for any confusion and good luck with next month's challenge.


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tnwilz
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I understand what you mean. That's why they say nothing is original, I suppose. Asimov was writing those themes when Orson and I were in nappies. Thanks for clarifying, I'm not concerned about vague comparisons since they are simply impossible to avoid. Your own story has echo's of Philip Pullman and C.S.Lewis but I doubt you intended them. Right, back to work. I have to put my crit of your story up.

[This message has been edited by tnwilz (edited June 30, 2009).]


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Nick T
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Hi everyone,

Sorry for not being active on this thread, I've had a very busy couple of months.

In terms of public crits, we should be wrapping up this challenge pretty soon. I'll start a new one by the end of the day; thanks to everyone for participating.

In terms of scores, you shouldn't really be offering too many 7s or above unless you have absolutely nothing to say about that element of the story and truly think it can't be improved in any way. Since we're meant to send our pieces to market, we should have tough skins.

By the way did anyone ever hear from "thayerds" in the last challenge? I never did get a critique from him on the last one and I didn't see any public comments from him either. No biggie, was curious.

Nick



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Merlion-Emrys
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He sent me an email early in June and said he'd get back to me on Harmony by the end of the week and never did...nothing on Prism Ship which I also sent him either.
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Dogmatic
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Thanks to all for the critiques. I found it very helpful and I painfully agree with many of the comments. This was my first challenge and I thought it was great. I look forward to the next one which I guess is this month now.
Steve

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