Critique Group – Dragonfyre and Reborn

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All right, critiquing partners, we have two more submissions to analyze today.

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 – Dragonfyre by Rex

Lexan’s boots crunched the gravel road as he quickly approached the crowded training grounds, bathed in the moonlight. “I can’t believe so many people are here this early.” His comment was directed inward, so the answer took him by surprise.

“What’s not to believe?” The gravelly voice came from one of the nomadic merchants that had arrived the previous night. “For years we’ve come to this village to trade, and each time we hear of some up and coming swordsman…the new pride of the King’s army. Pah.” His hand waved in a sign of dismissal. “I never pay attention. But last night at the tavern we heard that the talk this year was of a woman! I assume most people, like me, wanted to see it for themselves.”

Lexan followed his gaze as it returned to the match unfolding before them. There, in the center of the field, surrounded by three armed young men, was the subject of his own search. The woman about whom the merchant had been speaking; Solandis, the local blacksmith.

As he watched, he thought of how she had gotten this opportunity. When she had first spoken with the training master, her request to be trained was met with laughter. Of course her smithing was nearly flawless, but crafting a sword and using one were very different skills. However, once she convinced him to take her on, the laughter stopped immediately. Her skill with a hammer was dwarfed by her skill with a blade.

Lexan didn’t know why the council would send him to deliver her a summons so early in the day, but as he watched her session, that thought was driven from his mind. Solandis had her back to one of the recruits while guarding with both sword and shield against the others. Suddenly, the fighter behind her pulled back to swipe at her side. She quickly turned at the sound of his clanging armor and deftly parried the blow. A quick shove with her shield knocked the trainee to the dirt. The other two took advantage of her distraction and attacked together.

She ducked under one blade, but was too slow to back away from the jab of the other; the unwelcome thump of dulled blade to breastplate sounded in her ear. The gathered crowd was equally split with joy and shock. Ever since she had topped the recruit rankings, almost no one was able to touch her, a fact that was well known to the locals.

This rare moment of weakness stabbed at her pride, but she could still win this battle, and retain her reputation. She intentionally slowed and widened her strokes to bait them into attacking and lowering their guard. She had used this tactic several times against these two, but they never seemed to realize it. However, this time, her opponents reacted differently. Instead of dropping their guard, they closed their defensive gaps, and with two quick strokes managed to twist her sword from her grip.

The crowd was shocked into silence as the blade spun to the earth.

The merchant that had been speaking to Lexan was the first to speak. “I knew it. The new pride of the King’s army indeed. Why, when I was a lad…”. The merchant continued speaking to any who would listen, but Lexan had tarried long enough. He needed to deliver his message.

“Solandis!”, he called after her. “I have a message from the council.” He reached her just as she was trading her training sword for her personal weapon. Her sword, Maigorn, was a true masterpiece.

“What do they want, Lexan? I’m not in the mood for any nonsense today.” Solandis’ ego was obviously bruised from her rare loss, and her usual cheery demeanor seemed to have vanished.

“I don’t know. It’s odd for them to send me out before dawn, but they need to speak with you. They said it was urgent. I really should have stopped the match when I arrived.”

“Yes. You should have.”

There was a small hint of venom in her words. She knew he didn’t deserve to have her irritation taken out on him, but she also couldn’t apologize for it. After all, if he had stopped the match, her humiliation could have been avoided.

She stalked off, still angry at herself, both for her defeat in the arena and for almost losing her temper with Lexan. She wandered through the mostly deserted streets toward the center of town.

That was one advantage to training before dawn. In an hour or so the roosters would call all of the merchants and tradesmen, local and traveling, to begin their day. Every street would be packed with clothiers and cake sellers, minstrels and magicians. Each one offering their goods and services to grateful patrons.

As she walked she nervously fingered the hilt of her trusty blade. While she had suffered rare defeats using the training blades, she had never lost a match while wielding Maigorn. It was a bit of a good luck charm. Using the sword was painful now that her father was gone, but carrying it gave her a strong sense of comfort.

After a few more turns the gravel path beneath her feet turned into the familiar paved streets of the main square. As the sky grew lighter she could see her destination, dark and foreboding, just two hundred yards distant.

The council’s building loomed like death’s shadow at the end of the cobblestone lane. The large gate to the courtyard would be locked and guarded, as the sun hadn’t risen yet. The granite columns, which surrounded the building while providing anchor points for the perimeter fence, were definitely the most impressive feature of the complex.

While all twelve held designs, the two that stood front and center were the most magnificent of them all. Each one was carved with designs of dragons of all sizes and colors. The mere sight of them was enough to chase away her foul mood. Perhaps the morning wouldn’t be as bad as she had thought.

Submission #2 – Reborn by Rebecca

My life sucks.  That’s the only way I can describe it.  Of course, it probably isn’t as bad as those people on the streets-but still.  The weather matches my mood: gloomy and dark.  At the rate I’m going, my house will burn down next.  Mom’s calling me down for breakfast.  Maybe I should just skip.  I mean, I’m gonna be late for the school bus anyway.

Sometimes, I wish I was one of those Christians.  Everything good seems to happen to them, and they’re always happy.  Other times, though, I remember all the bad stuff, like Nero.  I’m at school now, and of course nobody is sitting next to me.  They say, “Oh, she’s really grumpy.” or “I would, but I’m sitting with my friends.”  Shoot-the principal just came in.  I bet something bad just happened.  Great.  Wait, there’s somebody behind him.  She looks like a freshman, maybe a sophomore.  The principal just introduced her as Kiana, and she’s waving and saying hello.  Now, the teacher, Mr. Pacin is pointing to me.  Kiana nods and heads over to the empty seat next to me.  Ugh.

Thankfully, Kiana’s only in one of my classes, public speaking.  The rest of the day passes like normal.  Nobody sits next to me, nobody talks to me.  On the way home in the school bus, and then walking from the bus stop to my house, I replay my talk with Kiana-or rather, Kiana’s talk with me.  I just sat and listened.  My mom says hi to me and tries to hug me, but I shake her off.  I don’t want to get attached to anyone any more than I have to.  After losing Dad, James, and Nadine in that plane crash…well, I just can’t do it anymore.  I head up to my room, deep in thought.  Kiana had seemed totally fine with me not talking, but she didn’t seem like the ‘only talk about myself’ type.  It was almost as if she understood that I didn’t want to talk about anything.  As if she understood how I felt.  No.  I’m just imagining it.  Nobody could feel what I feel, and definitely not Kiana.  She was just too happy.  Suddenly, a thought sprang to my mind.  I could ask her the next day, perhaps, why she was so excited.

Public speaking comes, and Kiana arrives, smiling happily as she makes her way to sit next to me.  For a second, I was almost glad that she still is here.  I almost expected to see her go to sit with somebody else, who would actually talk.  Gathering up my courage, I open my mouth-then close it again.  Mr. Pacin just started talking, and Kiana seems enraptured with what he is saying.   I tune out, knowing that he doesn’t expect me to do any work.  After given her task, Kiana gets out a piece of paper and starts writing an outline.  Thinking for a bit, she looks over at me, as if to see what I’m writing.  Noticing that I’m not doing the assignment, she asks, “Why aren’t you writing your outline?”

I mutter, “‘Cause.”

“‘Cause why?  Do you want to tell me about it?”

Wow.  She sounds exactly like my counselor that Mom has hired.  I swear, that woman never stops asking questions in that annoying, ‘This is what you have to do’ voice.  I turn towards Kiana, ready to give her my death glare, but then I stop and think.  She is my only friend-if you could call her that-and I don’t want to lose her.  No, I can’t think like that.  She’ll just move away or die or find other friends if I become her friend.  Then Kiana says something that makes my head spin.

“I think I understand what you’re going through.  I moved here a few months ago, and I was cooped up in an apartment until school started again.  Now, I don’t have any friends.  It’s just been really lonely.  Finding you has made me realize that there are people out there who need a friend, just like I do.”  She smiles sadly at me and goes to pick up her pencil again.  I don’t know what to say.  A thought flashes through my head, “Now!  Ask her now!”

Nervously, I question her, “Why are you so happy, even after losing all your friends?”  I can tell that she is taken aback, and mentally I hit myself.  What was I thinking?

Then she says, “I guess it’s because I know that Jesus is helping me through all the hard stuff in life.  I might sound a little Biblical, but I know that at the end of my life, there will be a reward for me for all the stuff that I’ve suffered-like no friends because people think that I’m a freak.  Besides, right now is a trial, even as I’m talking to you.  I’ve heard all the rumors about you, about what happened.”  She laughs.  “One girl even came up and asked why I bothered to speak with you.  But honestly, I’ve had much harder.  It’s really easy to talk to guys, easier than talking to girls.”  Kiana falls silent.  I ponder this in my head.  Should I confide in her?  It might make some things really easy for me and my mom.

Just then, Mr. Pacin stalks over to our table and bangs his fist.  Kiana jumps, startled.  I bite back a smirk  at how silly she looks.  Mr. Pacin yells-loud enough for the whole world to hear.  I can tell that he isn’t talking to me, but to Kiana.  Rough.  Her second day, and already she’s on the naughty list.  As soon as he leaves and goes over to his desk to keep watch on other tables, I lean over and whisper to Kiana,

“Meet me after school near the woodshop.  I have to tell you something.”  Her eyes widen and she nods.  I sigh, relieved that I got that over with.  I think I must have broken a record-I just said two sentences in one class!

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  1. Submission #1 – Dragonfyre

    Rex, I found this piece to be intriguing. You employ some very cool verbiage, like, “The council’s building loomed like death’s shadow at the end of the cobblestone lane.” Very nice. I would read on to see what happens next. You express yourself well with good pacing for the most part, so my critiques will be technical in nature.

    Let’s look at the first paragraph:


    Lexan’s boots crunched the gravel road as he quickly approached the crowded training grounds, bathed in the moonlight. “I can’t believe so many people are here this early.” His comment was directed inward, so the answer took him by surprise.


    When we write in intimate point of view, we want to make sure we put events in the order in which they occur. Which happens first? Which event causes the other? Does Lexan’s approach cause the crunching boots, or do the crunching boots cause the approach? I think it’s the former of the two, so I would put the events in that order. Also, “approached” is a vague verb, so you added an adverb (quickly) to clarify it. I am not opposed to adverbs, but whenever I see one, I look to see if a better verb can be chosen and the adverb eliminated.

    In addition, I think you tried to do too much with the first sentence, and the “bathed in moonlight” feels tacked on. I would add another sentence and describe the crowd with more distinct visual imagery.

    Try this:
    As Lexan ran toward the training grounds, his boots crunched the gravel road. Ahead, bathed in moonlight, at least thirty people encircled the practice ring and pressed closer.

    The last phrase (the answer took him by surprise) provides a reaction to a stimulus that has not yet occurred. In other words, you have events out of order. He is taken by surprise by something you have not yet reported. If the character hears the answer before he reacts to it, you need to report the events in that order.


    “What’s not to believe?” The gravelly voice came from one of the nomadic merchants that had arrived the previous night.


    Since Lexan was just arriving himself, I am wondering how he knows this merchant arrived the previous night.

    “Lexan followed his gaze as it returned to the match unfolding before them.”

    Again, this is out of order. Lexan wouldn’t follow the gaze until the gaze returned.


    As he watched, he thought of how she had gotten this opportunity. When she had first spoken with the training master, her request to be trained was met with laughter. Of course her smithing was nearly flawless, but crafting a sword and using one were very different skills. However, once she convinced him to take her on, the laughter stopped immediately. Her skill with a hammer was dwarfed by her skill with a blade.


    I think this is borderline too much information dumping. You tell readers about her skills with a blade, and they would probably prefer to be shown those skills. Also, you stopped the story and slowed the pace. What is happening while Lexan is doing this pondering? An action scene is not a good place to provide back story pondering. I think you can show all of these elements as the story progresses.

    In the next two paragraphs, beginning with, “Lexan didn’t know why the council would send him” you switch the point of view (POV) from Lexan to Solandis. The reader jumps to her head and her thoughts. This begins when she turns at the sound of the clanging armor (which is another out-of-order sequence. Also, you used quick twice close together.). Of course, you could be describing what Lexan hears, but this could be interpreted as what Solandis hears.

    Later the point-of-view shift becomes unmistakable with, “the unwelcome thump of dulled blade to breastplate sounded in her ear.” You also mention her history of no one being able to touch her and the stabbing of her pride. This is telling us what Solandis hears and thinks as well as her reaction to it.

    Such a POV shift doesn’t work, especially if you are attempting to instill intimacy in POV. The reader was in Lexan’s mind and suddenly leaped to Solandis’s mind. In most writing circles (including mine), such a shift is breaking the rules, unless you are writing in an omniscient POV, which doesn’t appear to be the case here.

    “The gathered crowd was equally split with joy and shock.” This is telling instead of showing. Can you describe these reactions?


    However, this time, her opponents reacted differently. Instead of dropping their guard, they closed their defensive gaps, and with two quick strokes managed to twist her sword from her grip.


    I think you can delete “her opponents reacted differently.” You show that in the next sentence.

    “The crowd was shocked into silence as the blade spun to the earth.”

    This is out of order. The blade spinning is the event that brings about the crowd reaction.


    The merchant that had been speaking to Lexan was the first to speak. “I knew it. The new pride of the King’s army indeed. Why, when I was a lad…”. The merchant continued speaking to any who would listen, but Lexan had tarried long enough. He needed to deliver his message.


    In this paragraph you shift back to Lexan’s POV. The shifts are not helpful at all.

    “Solandis!”, he called after her.

    “After her” indicates that she is leaving, but I saw no evidence of that until the next paragraph.

    “There was a small hint of venom in her words.”

    A hint is already small. I think you can delete small.

    “She knew he didn’t deserve to have her irritation taken out on him, but she also couldn’t apologize for it. After all, if he had stopped the match, her humiliation could have been avoided.”

    In the above, you shift to her POV again. This is called head-hopping and should be avoided. Also, I didn’t understand her reason for not apologizing. Lexan couldn’t have known that she would lose and be humiliated. She isn’t making sense.

    Also, if you decide to write from her POV, you can delete “she knew.” If you describe her thoughts, she knows her thoughts, so you don’t have to say that she knows them.

    “That was one advantage to training before dawn.” Are you saying that she liked being alone? That wasn’t clear to me. Maybe, “Solitude was one advantage …”

    Also, I am not feeling Solandis’s pain. She lost to three men. I am thinking, “Of course she lost. She was fighting against three men.” The odds seemed overwhelming. Unless I knew her skill better, I wouldn’t feel her pain even if she lost to just one man, though losing to just one man would help a lot. At this point I am not familiar enough with her skill to feel sorry for her, which is an important element in gaining an emotional connection with the reader.

    “After a few more turns the gravel path beneath her feet turned into the familiar paved streets of the main square. As the sky grew lighter she could see her destination, dark and foreboding, just two hundred yards distant.”

    I would take out “she could see.” If you report a visual, your POV character can see it, so saying that she sees it is redundant. You would have to alter it slightly to something like, “As the sky grew lighter her destination appeared, dark and foreboding, just two hundred yards distant.”

    I would also take out “beneath her feet.” The gravel path won’t be anywhere else. Also, you have “turns” and “turned” in the same sentence.


    The granite columns, which surrounded the building while providing anchor points for the perimeter fence, were definitely the most impressive feature of the complex.
    While all twelve held designs, the two that stood front and center were the most magnificent of them all. Each one was carved with designs of dragons of all sizes and colors. The mere sight of them was enough to chase away her foul mood. Perhaps the morning wouldn’t be as bad as she had thought.


    Solandis has seen this structure many times, so it is odd that she would take such careful note of it. It’s the same old thing. When I want to describe something like this, I will have a character notice a change of some kind so that her attention is drawn not only to the change but also to the rest of the structure so she can check to see if anything else has changed. Also, I would try to add more clarity to the visuals and show her change of mood rather than tell it.

    Maybe something like this:


    After a few more turns the gravel path gave way to the main square’s familiar cobblestone streets. As the sky grew lighter, her destination came into view, dark and foreboding, just two hundred yards distant. The council’s building loomed like death’s shadow at the end of the lane.
    She walked on, head low, shoulders sagging. Losing was bad enough, but facing the council members? Their sharp tongues would show no mercy.
    When she arrived at the gate, a pebble dropped and rolled to her boot. She looked up and scanned the barrier, trying to locate the source. Might there be a fault in one of the granite columns surrounding the building? They had always provided anchor points for the perimeter fence, so they needed to be strong and impenetrable.

    She let her gaze pass across the twelve columns and their designs. The two at the front, each bearing the carving of a red dragon in flight, seemed intact, as did the lesser dragons on the other columns, whether blue, green, or orange.

    As she stared at the magnificent creatures, she inhaled deeply. What beauty! What inspiration! How many times had she passed by these columns without taking a second glance?

    She picked up the pebble, slid it into her pocket, and squared her shoulders. The training defeat today was the mere dropping of a pebble. The columns, and her determination, had lost nothing of consequence. She would press on, no matter what.


    I think Solandis’s actions are far more interesting than are Lexan’s, so I would write the entire scene from her point of view.

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  2. Submission #2 – Reborn

    Rebecca,

    I found your piece interesting. It held my attention all the way through. You made me hope that good things would happen for the character.

    The fact is that I didn’t like your character at all early on. She seemed self-absorbed and blind to the fact that she is the reason she has no friends. Then I learned about her tragedy, and that altered my outlook. Fortunately, I didn’t reject her right away and hoped for better.

    Of course, a Christian like Kiana looks for good as well, but my concern is that your readers might not be patient to wait for a glimmer of light. Is it possible to show a hint of the tragedy early on? Maybe she is looking at a photo of her family, tears well in her eyes, and she quickly closes the notebook when Kiana shows up?

    I think giving her some likeable qualities will help your reader want to cheer for her.

    Also, can you show the initial conversation, though it is one-sided? What did Kiana say to introduce herself? Can you show us how the principal introduces Kiana? As a reader, I feel blind and deaf to what is going on in the room. A brief description of Kiana would help greatly. If your character can see and hear what’s going on, your reader should be able to as well.

    “Sometimes, I wish I was one of those Christians. Everything good seems to happen to them, and they’re always happy. Other times, though, I remember all the bad stuff, like Nero.”

    I wonder if non-Christians actually think this way. Do you know of some that do? I could be wrong, but this thought seems unrealistic to me and somewhat out of the blue..

    I would like to see a lot more real-time action. Show the mother saying hi, what her body language is, and other visuals. Show the classroom activity, the sights, the sounds, even the smells. Being so blind to the surroundings makes the story feel far away and unreachable.

    “Suddenly, a thought sprang to my mind. I could ask her the next day, perhaps, why she was so excited.”

    I also wonder if this is a realistic thought. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not sure people think this way.

    “Then Kiana says something that makes my head spin.”

    You report the reaction (head spinning) before the cause of the spinning (Kiana’s words), so it’s out of order.

    “I think I understand what you’re going through. I moved here a few months ago, and I was cooped up in an apartment until school started again.”

    If she was already in town when school started, why did it seem that she was introduced as a new student, as if she had just moved into town?

    Kiana’s dialogue feels a bit farfetched to me, that is, too lengthy and practiced. I would like to see her words clipped a little more into realistic dialogue.

    Something like this:

    “Well, I guess it’s like this. Jesus helps me through the hard stuff.” She lifted her brow. “Please don’t think I’m a freak. Most people do. That’s why I don’t have any friends.”

    “No. It’s all right. I know exactly what it feels like.”

    Kiana blew out a sigh. “Thanks. It’s just that I like to talk about faith. When I’m feeling down, it’s good to know that there’s a better place. At the end of life, I mean.”

    I think you can make this a great story. Keep up the good work!

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    • Ok! Thanks for the feedback, Mr. Davis. I really appreciate it and I’ll try to change it.

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    • Also, for when Kiana is saying she knows what is going on, it had been break when Kiana moved. School didn’t start up again for a few months, and so she couldn’t go. She came in the middle of the school year.

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  3. For the first submission, I found the story to be really interesting, especially since fantasy is one of the areas that I love to read, and I liked it, although it did seem to be presented awkwardly. The second submission I found was to be good for presenting a modern day scenario that someone could easily relate to, at least I could since I grew up moving all over the place and each time I had to make new friends.

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  4. Thoughts on Submission 2:

    I really liked this piece. The tone and voice of the first paragraph immediately grabbed me. And you did a good job in keeping that voice constant throughout the story. There were some elements of the story that threw me for a loop or that worried me, which I’ll address below, but, at least from my perspective, you nailed the voice for the most part. And that made me very interested in who this protagonist was.

    A couple of individual lines I found confusing or too direct:

    “Sometimes, I wish I was one of those Christians.” <<This seemed really disjointed from the rest of the flow of the paragraphs, and was too on-the-nose for me. If I picked up this book in a bookstore, it would also suggest to me that the rest of the book may be too preachy or simplistic in how it presents Christianity, and might deter me from reading more, even with the great voice.

    “I’m at school now, and of course nobody is sitting next to me.” <<The jump from waiting for the bus to being at school was pretty distracting as a reader. Maybe if you had this be the first sentence in the paragraph it would be a bit better. But in the middle of the paragraph and without any warning ahead of it, it was just too large of a time jump.

    “On the way home in the school bus, and then walking from the bus stop to my house, I replay my talk with Kiana-or rather, Kiana’s talk with me. I just sat and listened.” <<Why didn’t we get to hear this conversation? The story is speeding through stuff really fast in this story, and I’d like to linger more in the specifics.

    “After losing Dad, James, and Nadine in that plane crash…well, I just can’t do it anymore.” <<This seemed too direct and too early in the story to be making this reveal. If you instead hinted at some tragedy right now, and slowly built up the suspense until the full reveal, I think that would make the story a lot better and more intriguing to the reader.

    “Wow. She sounds exactly like my counselor that Mom has hired. I swear, that woman never stops asking questions in that annoying, ‘This is what you have to do’ voice.” <<No feedback. I just really liked these lines. They made me laugh, although I don’t think that was the protagonist’s intent.

    “She’ll just move away or die or find other friends if I become her friend.” <<This line seems too obvious to me. Tone it down some and make it more subtle.

    “I moved here a few months ago, and I was cooped up in an apartment until school started again. Now, I don’t have any friends.” <<These lines of conversation were really confusing to me. Exactly why doesn’t she have any friends? She’s making a reference to sometime before by saying, “now,” but it’s really unclear what event she’s referring to that made her lose all her friends. Was it the move? The sentence structure doesn’t make it clear what she’s talking about.

    Overall, some parts need to be more subtle, and some stuff was confusing, but overall your writing was fairly good. Honestly, though, I was kind of worried from this part of the story that the Christianity presented may be overly simplistic. I’m all for writing explicitly Christian literature, and about showing that Christ is the ultimate cure for despair. But that doesn’t mean that Christians will be happy all the time and that becoming a Christian immediately cures all the inward despair. Human life is more complex than that. And I’m not saying that you’re necessarily doing that, since this is only the first 500 words or so from your novel, and I don’t know how the rest of it progresses. But some parts of it seemed to be going in that direction, and if I were a potential reader, even with a great voice like you have, that could quickly turn me off from reading the book.

    One last stray thought: Was the protagonist’s name ever mentioned in this part? I don’t think it was, and, as a reader, I really want to know the name of the MC as soon as possible. So you probably want to mention that.

    Overall: Great voice, good characters, some overly-direct lines and potential-simplicity, but a pretty engaging read in the end. Nice work.

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  5. Submission #1

    I really liked the feel of this piece, it was intriguing and had good pace (I also really like medieval type stories).

    My main comment is the ‘head hopping’ as Mr. Davis mentioned, but I know I struggle with that myself at times.

    Keep up the good work!

    Submission #2

    I liked the pace for this piece, you can really get inside the character’s head (and I don’t read first person).

    The only thing I was confused about was the Main Character’s gender. Sometimes it seemed female and other times male.

    Keep writing!

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    • M. Esslinger, thanks for the encouragement! Mr. Davis, if I could clarify and question some of your comments, what qualifies intimate POV? I would always have called it First Person, but you mention it here and use ‘she’ as a pronoun. Also, using Solandis as my POV character, would I be better served with an opening closer to this?
      Crunching gravel signaled the approach of another spectator to the morning training duel. Keeping her eyes locked on her opponent, she listened to discern the identity of the newcomer. “I can’t…so early” the voice muttered. So, Lexan had come at last. She had wanted to show her skills to the boy for some time, but the council had always kept him at his post in the early morning. They may have sent him out to fetch the training master for some reason. Whatever the reason, he was here now, and she was going to give him a show.”
      I figure that, with what you were saying about mind hopping and caring about the character, that this kind of opening presents a single viewpoint while preserving one of the lines of dialogue and giving a glimpse at her current motivations. Also, since I know her skill, but the readers don’t, I have dropped the duel to a single opponent, as you suggested.
      One last thing, though. The bathed in moonlight felt tacked on to me as well. I tried rewording it later, but never quite got it to stick. The main reason for that was to show that it was before dawn, but the new opening would accomplish that just as easily, and hopefully it’s a bit less clumsy as well.

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      • Intimate POV can be accomplished in either third or first person. It simply means that you are putting the reader inside the skin of the character, and you report only what that character can see, hear, smell, feel, etc. You also avoid narrator-like narrative, such as “she saw” “she heard” etc. These are redundant, because if you report a visual, the POV character sees it. If you report a sound, the POV character hears it.

        This opening is better and accomplishes the single-POV you need. I would provide her name right away and maybe even add an opening sentence with her name along with more visual effects. Let’s see if I interpreted your meaning correctly:

        Solandis raised her training sword and stared at her opponent, a bulky brute of a man, one of the best in the village. As he raised his sword to meet hers, the crowd seemed to hold its collective breath. If not for the barest of dawn’s rays, the surrounding villagers would be invisible as well as silent.

        Crunching gravel signaled the approach of another spectator. Keeping her eyes locked on her opponent, she listened to discern the identity of the newcomer.

        “I can’t…so early” the male voice muttered.

        Solandis resisted a smile. So, Lexan had come at last. She had wanted to show her skills to the boy for some time, but the council had always kept him at his post in the early morning. They may have sent him out to fetch the training master for some reason. Whatever his purpose, he was here now, and she was going to give him a show.

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        • I like the idea of setting the scene like that, but was worried about starting the action without meeting the character first, but what you’ve just suggested allows a meeting, while telling the reader, ‘this is what you’re getting into, but I’ll give you a small taste of characterization first.’ Clearly I still have much to learn. Do you have any advice on how to catch the cause/effect reversal? I’ve heard that authors read their own work through rose colored glasses, and I suppose I’m no exception in that case. I just really need to get out of my own way.

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        • Yes, it is important to introduce the character before the action begins so readers can cheer for her.

          Catching cause/effect problems comes from practice. I have found that when someone reads out loud to me, I can catch them more easily, because I imagine the action taking place. When something happens that has no cause, I can spot it better.

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      • Oh, I wondered about if I needed to explain the POV comment. Bryan already mentioned the intimate, but here’s a cheat sheet:

        1st person – Use of “I”. The narrator is the main character (Examples: Hunger Games, Reapers) or at least “a” character (Does “To Kill a Mockingbird fit that criteria, Bryan?).

        2nd – Typically used only in “choose your own adventure” type books. “You do this; you do that.” Don’t use this one.

        3rd – The narrative is separate from the characters. Example: “Lexan’s boots crunched.”

        There are two subcategories of 3rd (I want to say I’ve seen a First Person Omniscient, but I can’t name it right now):

        Third Omniscient – The narrator gives us everything going on in everyone’s heads at all times (Examples: Chronicles of Narnia, The Legends of Karac-Tor). A lot of classics are omniscient.

        Third Limited – We get one person’s pov, either throughout the whole book, or per scene or chapter (Examples: Dragonkeepers, all of Bryan’s non-first person books).

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      • Kaci,

        To Kill a Mockingbird is first person POV all the way through–Scout’s POV.

        First person omniscient? I wonder how the author pulls that off.

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    • The main character’s gender is female. What parts seemed male? I could try to change those.

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  6. The second protagonist did not appeal to me. She sounded whiny, and the narration was too much telling. Once I learned why she was so upset, I felt slightly more sympathetic for her. There’s potential here…but maybe you should reconsider the point-of-view character.

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  7. Dragonfyre by Rex: First of all I’m intrigued about what is going on and your voice is nice. I like your description like “Her skill with a hammer was dwarfed by her skill with a blade.” Very nice. I think your first line could be stronger. Perhaps start about his mission to deliver the message to draw the reader in. The sentence: “His comment was directed inward, so the answer took him by surprise” seemed out of order like saying he was surprised and not saying what surprised him didn’t work here. The biggest issue I saw here was head hopping. You abruptly jumped from Lexan to Solandis’s point of view back and forth. If you’re doing omniscient this is fine, but if you’re going for third person limited this isn’t good. I started to get invested in Lexan then you took me to Solandis, then I felt the goal of the story blurred. I like the names and I think this has potential, but it just has some kinks to work out. Keep up to good work! You’re very brave for letting people critique you, Rex!

    Reborn by Rebecca: I think it’s interesting that you’re using a character dealing with grief and I like the POV, but like Julie D said we need to feel for the character as soon as possible. I think you should have why she has an attitude come much sooner so we sympathize with her. The first line could be changed to something about how much she misses her father and friends. You do a lot of teleportation during the rest of the piece. It’s a bit choppy. I would slow down and draw this out and work on your description and showing what the character is dealing with not telling. Perhaps have her mother remind her about an appointment. With an opportunity like that you could have her mother say her name. I could tell this was a girl, but it’s best to set this as quickly as possible. I felt like this moved too fast. The main character became friends with Kiana more quickly and I’d like to see their relationship blossom instead of just jump to it. I’d also like to get to know the main character more and know what her goal is. Basically I would focus on smoothing out and showing instead of telling. I know this is a lot and critique is scary, but with hard work you can improve. I wish you well in your writing! 🙂

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  8. Hi! Just to be fair, at some point I will go through the previous Friday posts and leave comments. I know I’m late to the party, but I refuse to submit anything until I’ve contributed, and I don’t want to leave people out.

    Also, just to be clear, I’m making comments as I read and not reading any of the other comments before reading for myself.

    Third, and forgive me if Bryan’s already said so: Having done a similar online critique group before, keep in mind I’m not seeing the whole thing. If I pose a question and you know I’ll get the answer a few chapters in, don’t worry about it. That was always the hard part for me, remembering nobody else could see the whole thing. (By contrast, if I needed that information in this section, um, yeah, it should be put in.) It was just a thought, because I tended to wind up banging my head on a wall. 0=)

    Fourth, since it’s a draft, I’m not looking at spelling and such right now, just overall content.

    Submission 1 notes:
    — “His comment was directed inward, so the answer took him by surprise.” – Unless you’re going for a very stylistic narrative, I’d suggest moving this to after the “gravelly voice” sentence. It can work, but it’s in the narrative.
    -Also, I don’t mind the exposition dialogue in paragraph two, but you’ve done a good enough job showing me that he’s a merchant who runs on a consistent circuit I don’t think you really need the merchant to say so. Don’t tell him his grousing just makes me smile. 0=)
    -Okay, I tend to have trouble keeping up with fight scenes, but you’ve made this one very clear for me. Two thoughts: Be careful of overdoing the adverbs, especially when two have the same meaning in one sentence. Also watch out for breaking pov (you’ve had a pretty clean Lexan pov until one like partway into the fight, where you go into Solandis’). I don’t mind omniscient, but until you got to Solandis it wasn’t an omniscient pov. Actually, now that I’m toward the end, was there possibly a pov break that got eaten when this posted?
    -He’s been pretty awestruck by her abilities this whole time. Don’t ruin it by adding another reminder that her skill is ‘rare.’ Not so early on.

    And I admit I have to run my own fight scenes past other people, so I’m going to defer to others on any details in the blocking.

    Submission 2 notes:
    -Paragraph one – Oh, this narrator is funny.
    -Okay, my thoughts are this: The narrator is completely engaging, but I don’t know if this is a guy or a girl, or what their name is. Also, this person is sort of overpowering Kiana. They’re telling me Kiana is a nice, unique person, but I haven’t really seen it yet. So, more Kiana, please. 0=)
    -Also, I’ve had the teacher who will slap the desk with a ruler (forgive me, meter stick) to get our attention, but the fist seems a little much. (Funny enough, I had a writing buddy tell me that for a very similar action, which may be why it sticks out.) So far, this guy kind of just seems like he needs to retire.
    -Last thought, related to the narrator v Kiana: Don’t skip the dialogue. Yes, you have a very strong inner thought process for this person, but this person is mostly refusing to let anybody else have a voice (which might be your intention, and in that case, just make it more obviously on purpose). Try to look for ways to clue me in on how well the narrator’s perspective matches up with Kiana and Mr. Pacin.

    Anyway, nice excerpt teases, both of you. 0=)

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  9. Commenting on the comments:

    Submission 1:
    Bryan, I knew you’d do a great job with the pov thing, which is why I didn’t detail it. (Bryan was one of my teachers from afar.)

    I figured Solandis just isn’t used to getting her rear handed to her. A might uppity, this lass. 0=)

    I don’t know that you’d have to necessarily start with Solandis. I kinda liked the overawed Lexan intro, but I do agree his stake in the game needs to be a lot stronger, and his opening more proactive. I think after you’ve tweaked it, it’ll have removed the redundancies and excess exposition and honed on him. If it’s still not working after you’ve made him a more active character, then I’d suggest trading out his pov. (Actually, as a trial run, maybe write the scene once completely in his head, and once completely in her head; that’ll tell you a lot. )

    Submission 2
    See, I didn’t think the line in Submission 2 about wanting to be the “good Christian” was out of place, because she’s kinda sardonic and I’ve heard the statement in real life. The narrator just seemed really lonely to me.

    Kiana does seem to jump into almost a sermonette really fast, but I couldn’t decide if that was just me or not. Some people will do that, but, I have to say, she sounds a little older than she’s supposed to be here when she does it.

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    • *honed in on

      I apparently cannot write today.

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    • Thanks Kaci! I never considered the idea of writing the entire scene from each perspective. Maybe I can use one as a flashback for a ‘first meeting’ sort of thing from which ever one I don’t use to start the story, so it can be seen from different perspectives. Unfortunately for Lexan (spoiler alert) they don’t end up together…but I don’t know why yet. And yes, she is unused to getting her rear handed to her. (internal backstory) When she had just begun solo-forging she began using a, for lack of a better term, play sword to practice on her own. The image I have of a ten year old training her form with no dummy, no opponent, and no official training is quite amusing :). However, learn she did, and the form she developed was technically brilliant.

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  10. Yeah, you can always mine the one you don’t use for perspective later. It really does help. I think you’ll like the results.

    She does sound awesome. 0=)

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  11. Thanks for all the feedback, guys. This really helps!

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  12. For Rebecca,
    I think that you have a problem similar to my own – detail. You go through one day so quickly, yet a lot could happen in the class she has with Kiana. Either skip the first day at school and add a few flashbacks, or take out the flashbacks you talk about after school and describe what happens during class. Be detailed.

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  13. Thanks Amanda. I’ll be working on that.

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  14. Guys, I really appreciate all the feedback. Thanks again, everybody!

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  15. Wow, I am really behind on my feedback for people. Today I’m trying to catch up on all five weeks at once. Sorry!

    Feedback for Dragonfyre

    Rex,

    Your sensory immersion is good, but a little inconsistent. Crunching boots on a gravel road give a reader an immediate sense of what they would be feeling were they there. I try to engage at least one sense other than sight and sound in each scene, and you do this fairly well. More texture could help, but don’t go overboard.

    Here’s an example where you could improve:
    “The crowd was shocked into silence as the blade spun to the earth.”

    Instead, perhaps something that engage the senses more.
    “The blade spun into the ground, showering Solandis’ boots with dirt. The murmur of the crowd died away as they held their collective breath.”

    Your point of view seems to shift a bit. You write fairly close to the subject, in an “intimate point of view”, which means that while you don’t write in first person, you focus on one character’s viewpoint. The problem is you shift mid-scene, which is a little frustrating because you do not employ an omniscient point of view style. I recommend tightening it down to what the main character can see and hear. Omniscient point of view is archaic these days.

    Feedback for Reborn

    Rebecca,

    I’ll give the same advice I gave to the previous week’s dystopian story. Your choice of first person, present tense, is an automatic deal killer for whether I’ll be able to pay attention. The style causes cognitive issues for me that are so distracting that I can’t focus on the story and have to quit reading.

    Think about it this way:

    Third person, past tense means that someone, possibly an omnipotent author, has written a story about something that already happened.

    First person, past tense means that the viewpoint character is recording a personal memoir of some sort about something that already happened.

    Third person, present tense means that the reader has taken the seat of an invisible, omnipresent observer and is actively watching things unfold. I don’t like this style either, but it at least makes sense because you can conceive a plausible reason for the style. In my earlier writing attempts, I used third person present tense because I was trying to convey a sense of action. I’ve since learned that past tense is active enough if you put some effort into it.

    First person, present tense means that the author, for some incomprehensible reason, is narrating his/her life as it happens.
    Kind of like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gnezI2hOXA (and even then, he’s using past tense)

    One thing that did stand out was that your viewpoint character is pointing out Nero as a bad thing happening to Christians, which I really don’t get. Your style and the presence of school busses suggest the story is set in the present day or near future, but the character is referring to a 1st Century Roman Caesar. This seems a very strange choice to focus on to me.

    I am sorry for not having any more significant feedback, but I just can’t focus on first person, present tense stories.

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