Critique Group – Voyage and The Raindrop Race

Sad CritiqueAre you ready to critique? Ready or not, here are two new submissions to consider.

Don’t forget the critiquing guidelines. All you have to do is post a comment about the submissions below. Don’t feel like you need to critique both or the whole piece of either one. Even a short comment on one aspect can be helpful. When you critique, be sure to mention which piece you’re critiquing.

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Submission #1 – Voyage (By Jessi)

A chilly wind swept across the barren landscape, throwing dust into the air. Only a few tough grasses struggled for survival in Locostwa’s cracked soil.

I tore my gaze away from the bleak expanse and focused on the ramshackle town surrounding the spaceport inn we stayed in. We were here for bounties, not a lousy view of flat land with a few distant peaks.

Dad scanned the crowd of miners as they left one of the holes in the ground. All of them, other than the feathery Torfs, wore tattered clothing that did little to break the wind. Tattoos marked some as slaves.

I shivered and followed Dad. We headed past the slaves without looking for bounties hiding among them. Escaped slaves and criminals hid because they wanted to avoid the mines, or worse, the pits. They wouldn’t hide in the very place they wanted to escape.

I brushed dust from my hair. I should have cut it short before coming to such a dustbowl, but I liked it long. It made me look younger, which gave me the element of surprise. People tended to dismiss teenage girls without considering them a threat, even if I carried a stun pistol. Lots of girls carried those, but unlike normal girls, I’d spent months in the Hunter Academy learning to shoot.

Dad pulled his infosheet from his pocket and touched an icon. “Rumor has it this Chix is around. Says she’s dealing in black market slaves.” He brushed dirt out of his red sideburns. “With all these workers coming and going, it would be pretty simple to nab a few.” He handed the infosheet to me. Unlike the newer models, which were very thin and folded over at least twice, this one only folded once.

An image and description of a Chix appeared on the infosheet screen. Nerrini Kazini. No slave tattoo marked her lustrous black fur. She held her tail high, almost higher than the tips of her ears. Golden rings hung from her ears. A few even adorned the flaps of gliding skin between her arms and legs.

The infosheet read: Wanted for illegal slave trade, kidnapping, enslaving, resisting arrest, kidnapping of hunters, murder of two hunters. Bounty: 4,000 Coin

My shoulders tensed. Maybe the Chix would only reach my waist if I stood next to her, but considering this one killed hunters, we’d have to be careful. I gave the infosheet back to Dad.

“You okay, Krys?” Dad glanced at a passing Torf who had lost most of the feathers on his tail.

I shrugged. “Fine. I just wish there was some sort of scammer we could go after. This one sounds like she’s dangerous.”

Dad playfully punched my shoulder. “We can do this. It’s a Chix.”

His words did little to comfort me. Chix were the reason we won the Tupra war.

“Come on.” Dad headed deeper into town.

Most of the buildings were composed of rough stone and rusting metal. I examined every person we passed. None stood out as potential bounties.

We traveled through the poor outskirts and into the market area of the town where brightly painted stalls stood against smooth stone and steel buildings. A few Gorkam and Torfs tried to sell us any kind of trash the planet produced. One Gorkam held up a bit of its own shedded exoskeleton. I moved on without pausing. Why would anyone pay for the spotted shell of a giant insect?

Ahead of us, a few larger shops and inns stood. Dad stopped and gazed at a tavern in front of us. Unlike the buildings on the outskirts, this stone building had been smoothed and painted. A mural depicting a comet flying over lettering spelling out Comet’s Tail had been painted on the wall.

“Looks like the hub for any sort of criminal,” Dad said. “Can you go in there and scout it out?”

I clenched my teeth and nodded.

“Don’t engage if you find something.” Dad handed me his infosheet. “If Nerrini isn’t there, see if anyone else has a bounty on their heads. Don’t let them see this.”

“I won’t.” I did my best to shove the apprehension down. I’m sixteen. I can handle this.

I pushed open the steel door and stepped into the tavern. Noise of various species talking and shouting assaulted my ears while starchy smells enveloped my nose. From the earthy scents, I guessed most of the food was plant-based, though a bit of meat scents clung in the air.

The doors swung shut behind me.

Local Gorkam and Torfs made up at least half the patrons. A few families sat around tables in the center of the room while the edges had rougher customers, most of which kept their backs to the walls. Some even wore their pistols in the open. Another group of the rough bunch stood at the bar or perched on stools.

I hurried to a dark corner near the doorway and sat at a small table before scanning the faces again. A bark-colored Chix with dark purple eyes sat at the bar next to a huge Elba with various weapons and sharp claws. A family of dark sable Chix sat around one of the tables. The mother’s fur had just enough black in it to be Nerrini, but this Chix had a family.

Two more Chix, both with reddish brown fur, sat in a dark alcove. No other Chix were in the tavern.

A young Torf flitted to my table. “What do you want to eat?” His sandy-colored feathers were shiny, hinting that he got paid well enough to care about his appearance.

A menu had been carved into the metal tabletop. I read the first thing on the list. “Fried sarga root,” I said.

He scurried away.

I leaned back and pulled out Dad’s infosheet. I kept it in my lap, hopefully out of sight of any patrons.

The Chix at the bar turned its head.

Submission #2 – The Raindrop Race (By Megan)

“All right everyone! Hustle up! Storm’s coming!” The scruffy voice of the raindrop commander hollered. He could frighten just about anyone into doing something. Rainer, though, well he was a different story. Every time it was about to rain, he would hide deep in the corners of his cloud so he wouldn’t fall to his death when it opened up.

Rainer began his usual routine of making sure all three of his particles, two hydrogen and one oxygen, were in place. He would then roll as quickly as he could to his hiding spot. “WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?!?!” Rainer suddenly heard. He froze, for he had been discovered. He knew that there was nothing he could do to prevent his death.

Once Rainer was gathered with all of his fellow raindrops in the center of the cloud, he tried to think of things he could do to escape, but nothing came to mind. He decided to wait for the countdown and let everything happen. “3… 2… 1!” The bottom of the cloud opened up from below Rainer, and he felt himself falling.

The next thing Rainer knew, he was sitting on a bright red piece of metal, surrounded by other raindrops like him. They were all laughing and having a great time. How can they be so happy? He thought. We all just became homeless! A very happy-looking raindrop came up to Rainer. “Comin’ to the races, dude?” He asked. “I guess so,” Rainer replied.

Once at the races, Rainer couldn’t believe his eyes! Raindrops were rolling off the sides of the metal like it was a game! A blobby drop seemed to read his mind. “It’s the only way to get off of this dang old car,” He said. “If you’re nervous, go that way. It’s the least-steep.”

Rainer was nervous, but he wanted to get off of this so called “car.” He carefully approached the edge of the bright red metal. “Here goes nothing,” He whispered. Then Rainer rolled off of the edge. He felt himself rolling faster and faster and noticed that he was on glass now instead of metal. The glass quickly became metal again, and Rainer was eased to the ground.

“Whoa!” He exclaimed. “That was so cool!” The other raindrops on the ground explained to Rainer that he needed to go down the “driveway” to the puddle where the all of the other drops were. He slowly rolled down to the puddle to see what they were doing.

There were too many raindrops in the puddle for Rainer to count. Everyone was squirming around and pushing each other. Rainer’s attention was quickly drawn away from them, though. He was being sucked into the ground! No matter what he did, nothing helped. Rainer was soon surrounded by a deep darkness.

After what seemed like hours, Rainer finally saw the light of day. There was good news and bad news about this. Bad news: He had somehow ended up in the ocean! Good news: He was near the top, so he could find his way out easily.

Once he was on top, Rainer took in several deep breaths. As soon as he began to feel relaxed, he felt like something was pulling him up! Rainer was floating in the air, and he was much thinner than before. “What’s going on?!” He screamed. A nearby drop who was also very thin told him that they were evaporating, or floating back into the clouds.

Rainer waited for the “evaporation” to be over until he was safely back inside his cloud. Once there, he rested and thought about everything that had happened to him. “Turns out,” he concluded. “The water cycle really isn’t that bad.”

Rainer never tried to escape another storm again. He rode out every one, and even began winning races. Rainer would tell all of the new drops how things were done, give them tips, and help them through their first time. To this day, he is still falling from the sky whenever there is a storm, and living to tell the tale.

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13 replies

  1. Submission #1 (Voyage)

    Jessi, this opening is very good. I liked how you introduced the POV character’s name, gender, age, and hair length in a natural way. The intimacy of the POV was excellent as we followed Krys into the tavern and experienced the various species with her as well as her anxieties. You also brought out the descriptions of the creatures in a natural way as the story moved along. No info dumping. Very well done.

    I don’t have much negative to add, just some suggestions.

    “I shivered and followed Dad.” This would have been a good place to reveal what Krys is wearing and what she thought about the lack of proper attire, which would give a bit of insight into her character.

    The term infosheet immediately made me think of a piece of paper, but touching an icon sounded like a tablet or phone screen. So that left me confused a bit. Then you noted that it folded, which made me think it is semi-rigid. A different label for it might help.

    “Rumor has it this Chix is around.” The word “this” means that he is referring to a particular one. Is Krys familiar with it? Could Dad turn the infosheet toward her right before saying it so Krys can look at the data and/or a photo? Otherwise, he could say, “a certain Chix”

    “She held her tail high, almost higher than the tips of her ears. Golden rings hung from her ears.” To avoid repeating “ears,” maybe “Golden rings hung from the lobes.”

    “at a passing Torf.” Is it flying? Maybe “at a passing Torf as it flew by. Most of its tail feathers had fallen out, or perhaps had been pulled out.”

    “His words did little to comfort me. Chix were the reason we won the Tupra war.” This is a cool tidbit to raise a question. I am assuming that Chix were helpful in battle, which makes them formidable, but that is not crystal clear. Maybe, “Chix fighting on the front lines helped us win the Tupra war.”

    “Ahead of us, a few larger shops and inns stood.” I would delete “of us.”

    “Looks like the hub for any sort of criminal,” Dad said. “Can you go in there and scout it out?” This left me wondering what Dad is going to do. Can you provide a good reason for him not to go with Krys?

    “A bark-colored Chix with dark purple eyes sat at the bar next to a huge Elba with various weapons and sharp claws.” The construction left me wondering if the Chix or the Ebla had the weapons and claws.

    “Fried sarga root,” I said. – I think you can delete the speaker tag. It’s obvious that Krys is talking.

    “He scurried away.” This makes me think of running. Did he fly or run?

    Jessi, there are many other specific positive comments I could make, but since you crafted this so well, I’m confident that you know what you did right. I trust that pointing out all the ways you could make it better is more helpful.

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  2. Submission #2 (The Raindrop Race)

    Megan, this is a cute idea, and I can imagine it being used as an instructive story for children when they are learning about the water cycle. Good job.

    Here are a few issues:

    “All right everyone! Hustle up! Storm’s coming!” The scruffy voice of the raindrop commander hollered. – The last sentence looks like a speaker tag for the dialogue. If so, then the “The” should be lower case. Also, I like putting the tag as close to the beginning of the dialogue as possible so the reader can identify the voice right away.

    For example – “All right everyone!” the raindrop commander hollered with a scruffy voice. “Hustle up! Storm’s coming!”

    “He could frighten just about anyone into doing something.” – This is an interpretation, but we don’t yet have a character to provide it, and the first reference to Rainer sounded like a narrator instead of from Rainer’s point of view.

    I suggest something like this:

    Rainer shuddered so hard, his atoms jiggled. That voice could frighten just about anyone into doing something. Every time he and the other raindrops were supposed to cast themselves to certain death below, he would drip to the corners of his cloud and hide.

    Next:

    Rainer suddenly heard. He froze, for he had been discovered. He knew that there was nothing he could do to prevent his death.

    While you’re in Rainer’s point of view, you can eliminate phrases like “he heard” and he knew.

    I suggest simplifying it like this: Rainer froze. He had been discovered. Now there was nothing he could do to prevent his death.

    Next: “A very happy-looking raindrop came up to Rainer.” “Came” is non-descript. “Rolled”?

    Next: “Comin’ to the races, dude?” He asked. “I guess so,” Rainer replied.

    Every time the speaker changes, you need a paragraph break.

    Next: He carefully approached the edge of the bright red metal.

    “Approached” is vague. Can you come up with a more descriptive verb?

    Next: “The glass quickly became metal again, and Rainer was eased to the ground.”

    The use of “was eased” is called passive voice, that is, the verb is being acted upon the subject of the sentence, which is Rainer. With active voice, the subject is doing the verb. Consider “and gravity eased Rainer to the ground.”

    I counted 21 uses of “was,” which is far too many. Each “was” indicates either passive voice, a state-of-being verb phrase, or a weak construction. Try to eliminate at least half of these.

    For example – “Rainer was nervous.” How about this – “Rainer shivered. Could he really do it?”

    Next: “The other raindrops on the ground explained to Rainer that he needed to go down the “driveway” to the puddle where the all of the other drops were.”

    I am wondering how these raindrops learned all of the terms. 

    Good job. Let’s see what others have to say about it.

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  3. JESSI: I loved this excerpt! Like Mr. Davis said, you did an excellent job introducing us to Krys and to this storyworld without info-dumping. Everything has a gritty, original feel to it, and I’m very intrigued about the various characters and the world they inhabit. Krys’ nervousness made her personable. I honestly can’t find any negatives (beyond the suggestions Mr. Davis gave you). That’s probably not very helpful… :/ If anything, I didn’t have a complete picture of some of the species mentioned, but I don’t think that’s much of a problem. Too much description would info-dumping, anyway. And there are enough clues given in a natural way to help the reader begin to visualize the creatures. All in all, well done! 😀

    MEGAN: Wow, this is certainly a creative and original idea! I agree with Mr. Davis–this would be a neat way to introduce youngsters to the water cycle. I’d never thought of a raindrop’s perspective before. XD I don’t know if you wanted to keep this story short, but if you have room for a bit of expansion, it’d be nice to have a smoother (slightly longer) transition from one location to the next. For instance, a sentence or two about what it felt like to be falling from a cloud would be great. You already mention deep darkness when he soaks into the ground. Maybe we could also get a sense of the earthy smell, or the way the soil changes as he moves toward the ocean. I really liked the water-specific adjectives and verbs you used (like “blobby” and “rolled” . . . also the part where Rainer makes sure all his particles are in place–very cute!). I also liked how you managed to give Rainer a character arc in such a short time. He went from being terrified, to gradually enjoying his journey, to becoming a fearless raindrop who mentors others. Good job! 😀

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  4. Jessi: Your writing has really, really improved since I’ve first seen it. Good job. 🙂 The one thing I have to say that wasn’t already covered by Mr. Davis is I think your hook could be stronger. You start out with description, but perhaps you can reference to the bounty and that could draw the reader into the story. I didn’t really get interested until “Locostwa” and even that wasn’t a firm hold for me.

    Megan: Really cute idea. 🙂 I concur with Mr. Davis, but I have a few other things I’d like to point out.

    For one, at the beginning I assumed the raindrop commander was human, because that was just my default form I see a speaker taking. So could you clarify this is a raindrop? Describe his globule form or something?

    Why did Rainer think he was going to die if he rained? Did someone tell him that? Or is this is own misconception?

    Why would he check his molecules first? Wouldn’t that be more of preparation for leaving not hiding?

    Interrobangs (?!) and caps are informal. I don’t recommend these especially if you’re submitting this somewhere.

    Since a cloud technically is made of water how does this sit with Rainer? Are their raindrops given duty to support a cloud? Are they given shifts? Some rain and some make the cloud for the others to stay in? Perhaps Rainer has had cloud duty all of his life and finally it is his turn to rain?

    Perhaps the cloud parted to add more description?

    I think you can just say “He fell” instead of he “felt himself falling”. Using words like felt and saw can jerk the reader out of the deep POV.

    Does Rainer see the sky or any scenery rushing by as he falls? Does he scream? Perhaps Rainer splats as he hits the car and he has to congeal back together?

    Because he thought “We all just became homeless” implies he doesn’t know what’s going to happen, but later on you mention he knows about the water cycle. This seems a bit inconsistent.

    Do raindrops have eyes? 😉 I’m not sure if that is applicable here.

    Perhaps describe the driveway more basically? Like the cement and the cracks? I’m assuming this is an ignorant rain drop since he’s never done this before so make sure to stick in his naive point of view.

    I like the character arc for Rainer. The fact that he’s scared at the beginning, but becomes brave by the end. That’s really good. The idea is really unique and sweet. 🙂 Keep up the good writing!

    Stori Tori’s Blog

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  5. Jessi,

    After reading your opening for Voyage, I want to see Jewel Staite play your character…except she’s a Lao Deow Ya like myself so’s she can’t pass as no naive young spacer lookin’ fer her own place in the ‘Verse no more. Time passes and 2003’s Firefly were more ‘n a spell ago.

    Ahem. Sorry. In case you didn’t catch it, I have a soft spot for cowboys in space so large you could hide an aircraft carrier in all the plushiness. On to some specifics.

    First, your opening is well polished and your choice of words paints a vivid picture. Barren, dust in the air, tough grasses struggling, and cracked soil are all good word choices. The next paragraph continues this, with words like “bleak,” “ramshackle,” and noting the “lousy view.

    Your alien names are decent. I suggest having some that defy conventional anatomy, or ones with unpronouncable names that people with different hearing ranges have slang terms for.

    I would also suggest using vibrant adjectives for alien features, particularly ones you want to pop out at the reader. For example, I know Elba are big, have sharp claws, and at least one of them likes weapons. But instead of “huge Elba with various weapons and sharp claws” sitting next to a Chix at the bar, couldn’t their relative sizes be pointed out with some rewording? How about:

    “A Chix peered at me from its seat at the bar, purple eyes unblinking as it nursed a drink. I looked up and past the Chix at the hulking Elba seated next to the bark-furred alien.. It ran its paw across the bar, doodling in the wood with razor sharp claws that made the Elba’s arsenal of personal weapons a case of pointless overkill. Or perhaps overcompensation for its tiny brain.”

    (I injected my snarkier first person style, which doesn’t really capture the essence of your character, but I always write first person snark. Plus I’m only assuming Elba are stupid.

    If you want to immerse yourself in the atmosphere of aliens and cowboys, I suggest reading some of Drew Karpyshyn’s Mass Effect novels. He handles diverse alien anatomy fairly well, though the atmosphere is more futuristic hopeful than cowboys in space. Watching Titan A.E. is also a good source for alien design, and the shows Firefly, Cowboy Bebop, Outlaw Star, and Trigun have some good cowboys in space visuals and stories.

    Good work so far.

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  6. Jessi. First off I am really intrigued by your story and want to know where it is going. I love the name Krys! Now this world you are in is a created world of your own which means you know all about it but you have to remember that your readers don’t. You bring up a lot of terms that clearly are important but you don’t explain very much which is okay but you should give some more description. For example when you talked about the creature who tried to sell his shed exoskeleton you talks about why would anyone want to buy the shed skin of a huge bug? So now I as the reader know that a Gorkam (I think I spelled that right) is basically a large insect. That is enough information to satisfy the reader for now while you set the board for the rest of the story. Try to do something like that with the other species. Especially the Chix. They are important and what your character is hunting so you want your readers to know what a Chix is. You said they had fur and ears. That could be several kinds of creatures. Make sure you tell us more about what it looks. It will be easy for us to see what you want us if you tell us early on and don’t give us too much time to frame our own image. Sometimes an author won’t tell you quite what something looks like and then as the reader we frame our own ideas of what this thing looks like. And then they’ll describe something that isn’t in the readers mental image which makes it tricky for the readers to re-frame their idea of the thing. So other than that I think you should describe the world more. I think you have it set in the future so describe this world. This world where people carry stun guns but also still live in brick houses. I want to see it and I want to know about it. I think that’s all I have for now. It is really good so far, very intriguing. I want to know the rest of the of the story. Keep working and KEEP WRITING!
    “I am a being comprised of letters, a character created by sentences, figment of imagination formed through fiction.” – Tahereh Mafi, Shatter Me

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  7. Megan. This is an interesting and unique story. A fun new look at the water cycle. Question: Did you write this just for fun or as something for class? Cause if your teacher told you do something creative involving the water cycle and you came up with this I am impressed. It is great. This is the kind of story I would never think of writing. But you did great. You took something ordinary and made new and interesting. I like it a lot. When you have a character speak make sure you start a new paragraph. Um I can’t really think of anything other than that. Great job. Keep writing.
    “Writers live twice” – Natalie Goldberg
    “Creativity is an act of defiance” – Twyla Tharp

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  8. Voyage:
    I really like how the story occurs on another world with more then one species. The only thing I would suggest is that I would actually love a little more description one the different species, on how they look; especially the Chix.
    Keep writing!

    The raindrop race:
    I don’t have any suggestions at this time; but I think that is a very cute story.
    Well done!

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  9. Jessi~
    I really like your story, but I was a bit confused about some details. Is this a world where humans and animals live together in harmony? Also, when you said, ‘I shivered and followed Dad.’ I felt that your character was scared of the slaves and miners. Perhaps say ‘I pulled my coat tighter, shivering, and followed Dad.’ Other than that, I think it’s a great story. Keep it up!

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  10. Reblogged this on Jessi L. Roberts, author and commented:
    Bryan Davis critiqued the first chapter of my space opera.

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  11. Thanks for all the comments and critique!
    I’m glad to see I’ve got around the right level of description. It’s really hard to describe something my character is familiar with while the reader isn’t. Since it’s also set far from Earth, my character hasn’t seen Earth-like animals, so I can’t compare them. I’m working on getting my website fixed up with a species guide. I know I can’t use that as an excuse, but it should give people a good idea of exactly what critters look like, if they are interested enough to google.
    I edited the part about the Torf a little. They don’t fly, they’re more like a feathered dinosaur.
    You figured out exactly how I picture the infosheet, I just need to come up with a better name for the silly thing.

    Rebecca, these are humans and aliens, not animals. If they live in harmony or not remains to be seen. 😉

    James, ironically, the way I describe this story is being a cross between Firefly and Star Wars with some Christian elements. I admit, I do need to work on making more alien aliens. Most of mine are a conglomeration of Earth animals. I’ll have to look up the stuff you mentioned. I’ve seen Titan A.E. and Firefly.
    I’m also going to have to do better at describing Elba claws. (One can tell a bit about the Elba’s character just by claw styles, which I probably should have mentioned here.)

    Now on to my sloppy attempt at critiquing “The Raindrop Race.”
    First of all, it is a very cute story.

    I agree with Victoria on this:
    “The bottom of the cloud opened up from below Rainer, and he felt himself falling.”

    Here, I’d get rid of the “Felt.” It is assumed that the character felt something, if you describe it. For example. “The bottom of the cloud opened up. Rainer plummeted through the air. The wind tore at his sides, making his body tumble and ripple.” (Or whatever raindrops do when they fall.) You have another case of “felt” that could probably be removed.

    Next: “The other raindrops on the ground explained to Rainer that he needed to go down the “driveway” to the puddle where the all of the other drops were.”

    This would be personal preference, and it would depend on how long you want the story, but I think you could show the other raindrops explaining to him how to go down the driveway.

    Overall, I like it. It’s a cute story.

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  12. Honestly, everything that I would have said as a critique has already been said. They were both really well written and I think you both have great potential.

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