Hi everyone, Please post your first thirteen in this thread by September 11th, using the following format: Title: Word count: Genre: First thirteen: Please do not post anything else in this 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 Posts: 712 | Registered: Jun 2008
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Emrys stood in line, waiting to buy a turkey leg. In front of him stood a man dressed as a troll. Although, all the trolls Emrys had seen—and he’d seen quite a few—were much less hairy. Behind him was a young woman in short-shorts. He wasn’t sure what had drawn him to this place, a world that had all but forgotten its magic. Or why he’d come to the festival—this world’s attempt to re-create a time before the magic was rejected. He supposed he wanted to see how they’d do it. And the idea of him, a wizard, walking through such a world undisguised (well, save for his taloned arm and leg) without drawing attention appealed to his sense of irony. The troll received his turkey leg and Emrys stepped up and
Report, Sabotage, Extract 3365 words Sci Fi + Action Adventure
Meg was more than annoyed by the call that woke them in the middle of the night. General Celek reached across her, picked up the phone and grunted into it. He’d be on her again as soon as the call ended.
The general listened for a while, then said, “Then we tell them that. Priority message: The Tesnians have not detected the attack. The fleet is ordered to Phase 3 at stealth speed.”
An attack was on the way. Deep cover had paid off, and Meg was activated. Her orders from Tesni Defense were clear: Warn them first, sabotage the attack, then extract herself before the response. She had to send the warning, but Celek was in her way.
She pulled the knife from her uniform piled beside the bed. When he hung up and settled on his back, she threw the covers off and
Death and Darkness 5600 words "Modern" Fantasy --- Darkness was once merely a Plague, but in the body of Haskel Edelstein, the man called HE, its role had been transformed. Plaguehunter, HE was now, a killer, nay, the slayer, nay, the ender of Eser ha’Makot, the Ten Plagues. HE was a slave to the millennia-old curse of the Exodus. HE was its master and partner in murder, and in liberation. An old man, a tired old man with great fire in his eyes and greater duty before him: the destruction of the remaining four Plagues of Egypt and their bearers.
A slave no more, HE thought, writing the letter to Death, a young woman named Amira Tal. She was the among the weakest links on the long chain of Tals, (end 13)
[This message has been edited by EP Kaplan (edited September 03, 2009).]
This one's changed so much since the first critique, I'm not sure it counts for the challenge, but since I'm the boss in this thread...
Bill didn't usually have time to read the morning paper, but re-directing Mr Chow's spirit away from the Dreaming and into a Christian heaven had been faster than expected. But before he could unfold the morning’s edition of the Truth, a red-headed woman opened his office door. She had a lively, pretty face underneath her wide-brimmed hat, but her ears jutted from her head like cup handles that had been broken off and then clumsily re-glued. “Are you the Mr. Bilanora of the Cadigal who talks to the dead?” she said with a birdsong Irish accent. Her eyes examined the room as if it was trapped and she did not cross the threshold. “Nah, I'm Seamus O’Shea who runs the Lord Nelson. You're looking for a black fella,” he said with a wink.
[This message has been edited by Nick T (edited September 04, 2009).]
Surrogate (working title) 7,000 words Fantasy
Sedrid hated dresses, and she hated herself for giving in to her father and abandoning her breeches. Umri would laugh at her, she knew. The giant ape would see the dress and great heaving barks would shake his giant ape chest, and she would throw rocks at him until he apologized. Benjamin would give her that stupid grin and fall all over himself complimenting her. Then she would blush and insult him until he left.
She sighed and waited for their guest nonetheless, sweating and muttering in the sunlit foyer of Oakhome.
When her uncle Rallum arrived, late, dusty and ragged, bearing an important-looking leather portfolio, she knew by his face that something was wrong.
Sedrid smiled and moved to greet him, but he crossed the foyer without so much as glancing at his favorite niece.
It looks like this is it and it is now the 11th by my time, so please write your comments on the 1st 13s and request those stories which you are interested in (or have time to do). At the end of the month, critiques must be returned and public scores (with the permission of the writer) issued. The bias in the scores should be towards "this isn't ready" as we're getting ready to hit the tough, cruel world of slush.
3rd sentence isn’t that smooth, it takes a fraction longer to parse that it should. Is there a clearer way to get the same information across? It’s understandable, just not as well expressed as the rest.
Other than that, I think it does the job. The set-up is gentle and fairly common, but that’s okay. It does the job of getting me past the 1st 13.
Report, Sabotage, Extract
I like the efficiency of this; it starts late and gets straight into action. I’d prefer you’d show Meg’s annoyance at the beginning, but it’s not a killer for me. The voice isn’t especially distinctive, but it is clean, which I like.
Death and Darkness
This one doesn’t really work for me as it’s a block of telling coupled with some stylistic devices that lessen my involvement. I also get the feeling that your true protagonist is Amira Tal. Do you want our sympathies to lie with her? If so, I think it might be better if you start with her and frame the story around her. Let us learn about Haskel Edelstein through her.
As noted above, the capitalized HE reduces my involvement…it’s almost a command that Edelstein is the important one rather than letting us come to that conclusion ourselves.
Having said all that, there’s clearly some very interesting stuff happening here. I’d read on because of that, but I’d be a lot more skeptical and that’s without a knowing bias towards rejection that a slush reader has.
Surrogate (working title)
Works for me. From a POV perspective, Sedrid knows Rallum is her guest, so I thought he should be named (i.e. “She sighed and waited for Uncle Rallum to arrive…). I’d personally break up the “When her Uncle Rallum arrived…” into two sentences as I think the implications of the description (why is he late, dusty and ragged?) interferes with the implications of “…she knew by his face that something was wrong…”) The two ideas could be dealt with in two sentences to make sure they're both clear to the reader.
Merlion-Emrys - The Festival - Cleanly written. An interesting idea (wizard at a renaissance fair). I would cut “and he’d seen a few” it doesn’t add anything. I think telling us that “He wasn’t sure what had drawn him to this place” somewhat undercuts your hook. It makes me care less about why he’s there since he doesn’t even know. I have to admit that there’s nothing really pulling me along. I would probably not read on.
JeffBarton - Report, Sabotage, Extract - I get what you mean by “He’d be on her again” but it made it sound like, to me, he was on her when the phone rang. Instead they appear to have been sleeping. The second paragraph flew over my head because I don’t have any context at all for what he’s talking about. It’s explained in the third, but it makes the second a throw-away. You have a good action hook going on (and you stopped the 13 mid sentence!) so I would read on just to see what she does to him.
EP Kaplan - Death and Darkness - Capitalizing common words like “Plague” always struck me as lazy or artificial or something. I’d either come up with a cool different fantasy word for the plague, or just lower case it. “HE”? How am I supposed to read that? The letters H and E? Or “he”? I stopped and wondered, and that’s probably not good. “Plaguehunter, HE was now” felt backwards. Can it just be “HE was now Plaguehunter”? The “nay” construction implies that all the things before the “nays” are not true. So why say he’s a killer, slayer, ender of Eser ha’Makot, if “nay” he’s not. I would probably read on a little longer because there seems to be something epic and fantastical going on, but I have no clue what it is. There are so many names and capitalized things and “nays” here that I am a little dizzied by it all.
Nick T - Sacrifice -Wow, this version is different. Loved the open, and the re-glued cup handle ears. “as if it was trapped” sounded like the room itself was in a trap or something. Maybe “booby-trapped”? I would read on.
There’s no urgency, conflict or peril driving the hook, especially since Emrys himself isn’t sure why he’s there. There is great potential for character interactions, but there is only one active character so far. The first 13 make me expect a character-driven piece in which Emrys tries to observe while maintaining his disguise. I would read on to find answers to the questions left open: Will he be recognized (or will the troll?) What reaction will happen? Will he have to blow his cover to prevent or cause some reaction?
Death and Darkness
The first paragraph is filled with contradictions: Darkness was a plague, now it’s used by the Plaguehunter. HE was a slave to the curse, and HE was its master. Fire in the eyes of the tired old man is also a contradiction, but more personally about the character. Those show that transformation already happened to the character before the start of this tale.
In HE’s point of view, the reference to himself is the way HE thinks of himself. I think the result distances the reader, making it more difficult to care about HE.
Even as much work as the contradictions and character were to take in, I’m interested to read on once the relationship with Death begins. How does a young woman take on the persona of Death as HE has taken on Darkness?
The strange and unusual is confined to the first sentence, but that’s enough. The guy who messes with souls and religions is intriguing. I expect to find out more about the woman and what trouble she’s bringing him, so I’d read on.
These first thirteen show some of the physical description and behavior of several characters. The reader has to take ‘ape’ literally to find a fantasy element, but there’s plenty of tension and potential conflict when Rallum arrives. I’d definitely read on to see what comes of his visit.
The Festival- Opening sets milieu fairly well, at least in my eyes. A real, honest to G-d magic-user at a Ren Faire (or similar event). Cool, I can dig it. As has been pointed out, that third sentence needs some tinkering. I'll have the full critique for you within 24 hours.
--- Report, Sabotage, Extract- The opening para sounds as though the two character, Meg and Celek, are in a, shall we say, physical relationship. So having her identify him as General celek sounds a little weird. Is she a less than willing partner? Or am I getting the wrong idea?
Reading on, it sounds as though she's not quite human, or human as we conceive it. A robot/android/cyborg? A brainwashed individual? The word "activated" and her very precise description ("then extract herself before the response") suggest this. I'd probably read on, if only to figure out what Meg's "deal" is.
--- Sacrifice- Bill is some sort of psychic/medium. Is Bill short for William, or a nickname derived from his last name? I liked the description of the "client" (I get the image of the pretty dame seeking Dick Tracy with this exchange). the newspaper is called "Truth", which was the name of the official Soviet paper (Pravda--Russian for truth). I'm not sure if it was intentional, but it instantly makes me want the story to take place either in Russia or somewhere under Soviet control.
I'd read on, just to see what sort of man sets up what, to me, feels for all the world like Dick Tracy meets Ghostbusters, not to mention what exactly said business might entail.
--- Surrogate- I too found myself wanting to believe that the "ape" was, in fact,a primate, at least at first. Umri strikes me as a big brother, while Benjamin, the only western sounding given name, is probably a suitor, She likes him, but probably nowhere near as much as he likes her. Millhouse and Lisa from the Simpsons, if you will.
Why is the portfolio important-looking? Is he clutching it tightly, or perhaps keeping it at arm's length? Is it made in a special manner? Bound with iron for added durability? Engraved or dyed in an extraordinary manner? Or perhaps the fact that it's leather makes it unique enough.
Questions raised that I assume will be answered rather soon: What exactly makes this visit from Uncle Rallum so special that it warrants the dress? If Sedrid has come to associate him with dresses, she probably wouldn't think of him so warmly, considering herself his favorite niece.
How old is Sedrid?
What's got uncle Rallum's knickers in such a twist?
[This message has been edited by EP Kaplan (edited September 13, 2009).]
There’s a lot to like about how tight this story is. Everything in the story is in the service of making the story work and that’s really difficult to do. There needs to be more depth as below; it read like an excerpt from a longer piece and that robbed it of potential. I think it needs work to make it stand out from the crowd, but there's a lot to keep as well.
For me, this is the weakest part of the story and where it is obvious that it’s an extract from a longer piece. Within this story, the protag is constantly in action (which is a good thing), but there’s little personality revealed in the choices she makes. She’s a little bit of a sterile Lara Croft-style babe without the depth to make us care for her. I got the feeling that a lot of the character development happened in the longer story. It probably will only take a few lines here or there to round her out.
Efficient, though, in a sense, quite predictable. No head-scratching, but I would have liked for more to have gone *wrong* for the protag.
Without reading the surrounding story, I didn’t get much of a sense that this was more than a star-wars type world. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s not a strength of the story.
No logic gaps as far as I could see.
As per milieu, I’d like to see a little more idea of what is special about the world and the situation if it’s going to be a stand-alone short story.
I think the writing style suited the story. Quite efficient and tight. I’d probably like to see greater sensory detail interwoven into the writing, but generally quite good.
Comparatively little dialogue, nothing leaped out at me.
No dead periods within the story, events kept moving pretty quickly and the protagonist was always forced to make decisions.
I wanted more emotional power from the ending and a better sense of resolution, which, once again, is probably an artifact of it being an excerpt.
I love the subject matter, the concepts and the jewish folklore/kabbalah elements, but it feels like its a piece of a larger work and it's a bit rough and bumpy in places.
This is lacking, we get little about the characters beyond their roles/plagues and even that isn't fully fleshed out.
Its mostly pretty good but not sufficiently explained and again it all feels like a small section of a larger story or novel.
Millieu- I dont feel this is an important aspect of this story.
It's all self consistent we just don't get enough of it.
Seriviceable what there is.
Action-Another area not really relevent to this piece.
Mostly good, but choppy in places. You switch between first and third person several times. Some of the reptition and stream-of-conciousness type parts get to be a little much.
This is tough. For someone with no knowledge of Kabbalah or jewish folklore a lot of the stuff isn't going to really make sense...i didn't totally get all of it and I do know a bit about those things. The basics, the Plagues and all are pretty easy but I think the world and circumstances need more detail and fleshing out. Overall 5 or 6
I've seen the subject matter broached now and then but not often, and the idea of the Plagues inhabiting people is a new one to me.
It didn't really have one, to me. It felt like a section cut from a novel or much longer story.
I really liked the ideas and concepts here. The writing itself could be made a bit cleaner, person and POV maintained better. Above all, I think it either needs to be condensed and focused into a single short story covering the subject matter, or expanded.
Story Overall-5 It's an enjoyable read. I think your main issue is a lack of character motivation. It reads kind of dry and clinical without a clear personal reason for the actions of the protag.
Character Development-3 This is the main thing I would try to improve before submitting this. With a strong personal stake for your MC, the rest of the story would be even better.
Plot- 6 No holes that I could see. It was tight and well-paced.
Milieu- 5 Seemed like a fairly generic sci-fi world. But what you did seemed believable. Wasn’t really integral to the plot (you could have easily replaced the spaceships with airplanes and the story would be the same).
Disbelief-7 No issue here.
Unique- 4 Seemed pretty standard, but not in a bad way.
Writing Style-6 Clean and clear.
Dialogue-7 Wasn’t really much. No problems with it.
Action-7 Good. Clear and moved the plot.
Ending- 6 The ending was fine for the story as it stood. I think it would have been more satisfying with something more significant for the character's personal goals (see character development).
I think this one is close to being ready. Just give us a reason to root for the character, and all her killing will seem more justified, and the ending will feel more satisfying.
Oopsie. I reviewed Festival and returned it to Merlion, then posting slipped my mind.
Overall story: 9 - entertained and felt complete
Character Development: 7 - Emrys is a mature character and does endearing things, but there was little if any growth for him. He expected growth in others, but the lack there is the point of the story.
Plot: 8 - adequate complexity for the size of the story and all points resolved
Ending: 9 - Emrys prevails, then speaks to his expectations. The very end closes to the start.
Milieu: 9 - I like the festival setting for its themes and overtones of the time before magic was forgotten.
Disbelief: 9 - I think the crowd reacted in a natural and believable way, particularly that the reactions varied.
Uniqueness: 8 - This story fits within what I have seen of the series and is in a unique setting.
Style: 7 - a few nits, and as usual in a crit, my own opinions.
Dialogue: 8 - good voices for those characters with dialog.
Story Overall-6 It held my interest until the end for sure. I would say, more than anything, it lacks personal involvement or emotion or something. It felt “sterile”, for lack of a better word. Everything that was happening was cool, but the deaths and plot developments didn’t really have any emotional content for me. I think you need to play up the MCs humanness in subtle ways so that we can empathize a little more. Somewhat related to this is my indifference to who “won”. In the end, I didn’t really care who came out on top.
Character Development-4 This is the area that I think could be improved the most. We get lots of insight into what they’ve been up to, and their current motivations, but not enough personal for me to feel connected to either character.
Plot- 8 No holes that I could see. It was tight and well-paced.
Milieu- 7 I guess if you consider the whole religion/magic subculture thing your “Milieu” , then it was very involved and well done.
Disbelief-7 No issue here.
Unique- 7 Very unique for me.
Writing Style-6 Clean and clear.
Dialogue-7 Didn’t notice any awkwardness. Wasn’t much of it.
Action-6 Not much of it, but what there was was fine.
Understandable-6 Pretty much, though there were a lot of jewish names, terms and things thrown in that I just skimmed because they weren’t relevant to the plot.
Ending- 6 It was kind of inevitable I suppose. But for the reasons I state above, lacked emotional resonance.
Hey, sorry this took so long; the holidays had things a bit hectic The Festival:
Characters development- 6 Not a lot of characters serving anything more than placeholder parts, and you don't get to truly meet more than one, but he seemed interesting enough.
Plot- 7 Neither lacking nor bloated, all issues resolved except for the one that arose in my mind as I began the story: what exactly schlepped all these magical folks here in the first place?
Milieu- 8 really liked the idea of forcing wizards to come to terms with a world where people dress up as caricatures of fantasy but have no magic. Kind of like what Galaxy Quest did to SF (Star Trek, in particular) cons. I make this comparison loosely and to compliment; while I never could get into ST, I loved that movie. One nit was that the system of magic didn't feel all that fleshed out. Costs, limits (I know that there was something that would block his power, or keep him from deploying it, but how does it work, what's the cost?
Disbelief- 7 The evolution of the crowd, in particular, worked well, although perhaps in part due to coincidence of setting, Emrys had a sort of Quixotic quality. Also, see note above regarding the magic system.
Style- 8 Clean, readable prose. Though a lot of the magic simply seemed to be swirling masses of power (some parts felt like I was reading a fight scene from an anime), I was never confused as to who was getting blasted by what.
Dialog- 8 Not a lot of it, but it worked.
Action- 9 This is an Action story. Even when Emrys is contemplating lunch, things are happening.
Understandable- 9 Understandable? Yes. quite
Overall- 8 A good, fun story. I enjoyed reading it, and that's how I want my dollar spent.