Critiquing My Old Writing || Part 1

CritiquingI’m hesitant to share this now because it’s the first fiction I’ve shared on this blog. I don’t want people thinking I’m still this bad at writing. But, I love reading posts like this, so I’m doing it anyway.

In this post, I’m sharing the first chapter of the first book length thing I ever finished, written when I was 15 years old. Needless to say, please do not believe the quality of the chapter below in any way reflects my writing today.

Bluejay Feather

Some context

This draft was around 65,000 words. I never titled it, but often referred to it as Martian Murder Mystery. This temporary title is a good description of the plot: a murder mystery set on Mars. Not that this is apparent from this prologue. Oh, and there was also time travel. Lots of time travel.

The most embarrassing part is that the draft below is the revised edition. Back then, I though the only editing writers needed to do was fix all their grammatical errors.

I do have some plans to reuse my favorite aspects of this novel in future drafts (e.g. the plot and some world building elements), but have abandoned the idea of publication for this specific project, which is why I’ve posted this prologue.

The Prologue to My First Novel Length Draft Ever

Before this prologue there is a horrible poem. This poem is excluded for the purposes of this post.

Prologue: First Contact

Mars was once a rocky planet, devoid of all life. Before that changed 75 seventy-five years ago, no one on Earth would have thought anyone would ever call it home. When I came upon the planet for the first time, I’d expected a relaxing vacation away from the pressures of life on Earth. What I got instead was something I’d never expected, something that would change my life. It all started one Martian summer day as I was giving a speech.

Ugh, why is this started with summary? Start in scene! There is no need to explain what could be explained through action, especially not at the beginning of the story when I am trying to give readers a reason to continue.

Also, dependent clauses need a comma after them if they come at the beginning of a sentence. 

Despite all of my previous speeches, the sheer number of which would have left the average person in the state of shock, this was the first I’d seen of a stage. Also a first, were the unnerving stares of the live audience. All these factors made the words of my speech more difficult, as though the very air was poisoned. However, the most unnerving thing of all was not any of these facts, but instead the expressions of the audience. Before now, I’d always wondered what viewers thought of my speeches, I’d even seen the stats, but nothing could compare to this. Never before could I so clearly see the boredom, accusations, and jealousy portrayed in the faces of many in my audience. I swallowed hard, but made sure that my disposition continued to appear confident and energetic. Showing any sign of nervousness or hesitation to an audience is to tell them that you’re not worth listening to. Despite all these things, I started this speech as I had many others.:

This paragraph is way too long, especially when surrounded by other paragraphs that are also way too long. Paragraph length should vary.

Another low-level concern is that there is way too much abstract language over language that engages the senses. I should, for example, show how Chess is making herself appear confident and energetic instead of saying she appears that way. The audience, too, should be described.

That’s another thing, Chess, our narrator, probably should have had her name stated by now with a description of herself.

“I was only five the day the world moved backwards. I may have been young, but I can still recall the way everything, every broadcast, and every person seemed to freeze a moment. The invention of the first practical method of time travel should have been a joyous occasion, or so one might think. Instead, the possible implications seemed to suddenly dawn on people. If someone commits a crime, why not go back and prevent that person from existing all together? If someone is about to be murdered, injured, or raped, why not go back in time and prevent it from occurring? Why not even go back and prevent some of the bloodiest wars in history?

So much info-dumping and way too many rhetorical questions. The speech should also be interrupted by action.

“Before the year was out, we had a war on our hands. On one side, we had everyone who believed time should be unaltered and on the other, was everyone who believed that, no matter what the cost to ourselves, we should do whatever we can to assist our ancestors and make time as perfect as possible. The two groups were called the preservationists and the perfectionists. As time machines grew more and more readily available to members of both parties, it became all too apparent that battle tactics needed to be completely revised.

The audience would likely already know most of this, so there would be no reason for Chess to say most of it in her speech. They would also mostly be asleep by now. 

“The inclusion of time travel opened the door to a literal whole other dimension of warfare. No longer could wars be won by fighting in simple battles. The members of each side would continually go back and warn their former selves and both sides would be locked in an endless stalemate. Like a song playing on an endless loop that none of them even realized was repeating. As a result, no one can say exactly how long this war (known today as the 4-D War) actually lasted, but everyone can agree on the event that ended it.

*face palms* so much info-dumping. Even my head is spinning with all this information. I could also probably even make all this info-dumping much easier to understand if I were to just rewrite it at my current skill level.

“It was 199 years ago on this day when that war ended all because one man, my father Robert Tempest, proposed a compromise. This compromise became known as the Retribution Act. It stated that true time travel, which was never properly reproduced after the Zephan Aaron disaster in any case, was outlawed entirely, and the more practical, less dangerous form of time travel known as dream travel would only be used in murder cases to force the person who committed the murder in the first place to experience exactly what their victim had experienced. People who die while dream traveling never come back…” I trailed off as I noticed something, or rather, someone behind the curtain of the stage move. I tried to pass this off as dramatic effect about my previous comment to allow the full meaning to sink in. What I’d seen had been a girl about my age, maybe a little older (or way younger depending on prospective) she had been wearing a “retribution is a crime in and of itself” t-shirt. I hated protesters, but wasn’t about to let them ruin my speech.  Something had felt off about this protester though, as though I knew her from someplace, but at the same time I was entirely positive that I had never seen her face before in my life.

Okay, here is the first interesting thing that happens in this chapter. Chess should have noticed this person sooner and had her unease intermingle with all the info-dumping.

Chess should also be sharing many more of her thoughts on the matter and how she is remaining calm in front of her audience despite this protester’s sudden appearance. That would have made it all much more interesting.

There should have been a new paragraph after the end of the speech.

Also, Martians from the distant future wear t-shirts? Who knew.

“On a happier note, many people often ask me how it is possible for me to be so young, not even sixteen and yet have been seven 199 years ago. The answer, I’m afraid, is not nearly as creative as some of the rumors I’ve heard drifting around. As is understandable, not everyone was happy with my father’s compromise, and so, small rebellions continued. It is not that difficult for someone to make the mental leap and come to realize that my father was at the top of the rebel’s hit lists, meaning that the rest of his family was not all that far behind. In an effort to protect me, I was cryogenically frozen and, as a result, became the first person to awaken from a long term cryogenic sleep lasting longer than twenty years. ”

All this information and Chess’s name hasn’t even been mentioned once?!

Besides, it was not by my choice, I wanted to add, but I didn’t because I knew the comment would be everywhere, and therefore was not worth the potential trouble it would cause: even if it was the truth.

Chess’s emotions should be portrayed in a less telly way.

“This in no way violates the laws of Retribution which only mention time travel, not cryogenics.” I wanted to wrap my speech up quickly now to figure out what the deal was with that protester, but now, as I glance at the area where she had been only seconds before, she is already gone.

Chess really should have been a lot more concerned about this protester.

“I must say that Mars is the perfect change in scenery I needed in order to celebrate this historic event in a whole new way. Even here on this planet, it is important to remember that history still links our two worlds. This is my first experience of interplanetary travel, and I must say that the trip is completely worth it. Thank you all for your time everyone! Wishing you all a happy Retribution Treaty Remembrance Day this is Aubriana Tempest.” After my speech had ended I looked around for someone who had seen the strange protester girl, but no one had noticed her: no one except me.

The most cliche end to a speech ever. There was no need for the entire speech to appear here. I could have included only the lines that were important.

I should mention that Chess is the nickname the main character goes by throughout most of the novel. Aubriana is her legal name. This in and of itself is rather gag worthy.

The last line in this paragraph is probably the most exciting thing that happens so far: that no one notices the protester and the protester doesn’t directly disrupt the speech.

Overall Thoughts

  • Most of the speech should be cut with only relevant lines shared with the reader. Those lines absolutely necessary to understanding events should be shared, the rest should be excluded.
  • Chess needs to interact with more of the characters, even if those characters don’t have speaking roles. She’s in an auditorium full of people. There should be plenty of characters around for her to interact with.
  • Chess needs to be more concerned about this protester and do more to prevent the protester from ruining her speech.
  • I need to do more to show readers why they should care about Chess. I suspect the scene starts a little too late. More about Chess can be established if I show who she speaks to before her important speech and her reaction to the need for the speech to be given.
  • Paragraphs need to be shorter and more varied. This is in part due to ungrammatical lack of spacing after quotation marks.
  • There needs to be more description using language that evokes the senses.
  • There is no reason for this to be a prologue. There is no time jump and Chess narrates the whole novel. This should be chapter one.

This is only a small percentage of what is wrong with this chapter, but there isn’t enough room in this post for me to cover everything.

Bluejay Feather

Anyone want to see chapter one or for me to critique another of my old works? Anyone else have some embarrassing old writing shoved in a drawer somewhere? Do you agree with my critique of this chapter?

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Invictus || Time Traveling Teenage Thieves

Invictus Book Review Image
This image is derivative of “Silver Vintage Mist Overlay” by Pink Sherbet Photography from Utah, USA. “Silver Vintage Mist Overlay” is CC BY 2.0

33152795Title: Invictus

Author: Ryan Graudin

Published: September 26, 2017

Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction

Synopsis: Far is the son of a gladiator and a professional time traveler. The first baby born outside of time. Top of his class. At least Far was, before his failed final exam shatters Far’s dreams of following in his time traveling mother’s footsteps faster than his cousin’s gelato can melt.

Far’s only hope is a handwritten note from an unknown sender promising him a second chance. Far’s present is not a time of second chances. The sender could be anyone, yet Far knows this is the sole remaining possibility to fulfill his time traveling dream.

Bluejay Feather

Review: This was a great light read to pick-up between the dense epic fantasy novels I’ve been reading and the additional ones I’m planning to read in the future.

That said, the novel itself contains several common time travel tropes. Having consumed my share of time travel related media, the world-building and plot twists, for the most part, weren’t all that surprising.

The heart of this novel was instead the characters and its addictive nature. I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump as of late, but I found this to be a hard to put down read.

While I do stand by what I said about most of the plot’s elements being ones I’ve seen before, there was one plot-twist that surprised me. This has more to do with this twist introducing tropes from a sub-genre that I didn’t expect to be incorporated into this novel than anything else.

Still, mixing sub-genres is a legitimate strategy, and the details of this twist fell into place once the author explained it.

Returning my attention to the characters, they have a great dynamic that only tends to come about in third-person-multiple point-of-view novels (which this is). Funnily enough, this is a characteristic I’ve noticed also reoccurs in novels centering around a heist. This novels characters also happens to be thieves. I don’t know what it says about fictional criminals that they have such great group dynamics.

This novel is one of those hard to pull off cases where the many points of view remained distinct and never got confusing despite the several main characters and the frequent shift in perspective.

This leads me to another great aspect of this novel: it is easy to follow. So many time travel novels have timelines that are difficult to keep track of. I didn’t have that problem at all with the main story here. I remained clear on what was happening in the story itself even throughout times when the characters weren’t sure themselves.

The other greatest aspect of this book was that the main characters have a domesticated red panda. Too bad domesticated red pandas don’t exist. The rest of us will have to keep observing from afar.

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Rating: This book was great fun, but it wasn’t anything revolutionary. 4 out of 5 blue jays. If you’re looking for a fast paced time travel heist novel this might be the book for you.

4 blue jays

Have you read or plan on reading Invictus? What’s your favorite time travel trope? Are red pandas cute or aren’t they cute?

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Please add a disclaimer if your comment contains spoilers.

Monsters of Verity Duology Review

Our Dark Duet

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Titles: This Savage Song, Our Dark Duet

Author: Victoria Schwab

Publication Date: 2016-2017

Genre: Young Adult Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Synopsis: In Verity, people’s crimes manifest as monsters.

August is one of these monsters. He doesn’t want to be but didn’t have a choice in the matter. Besides, Verity doesn’t need another human. It needs a monster. It needs him.

Kate is the daughter of the man who controls these monsters. All she wants is his approval, but approval is hard to get from a man who deals with monsters.

Together, they make up two halves of a divided city. A city where both halves hang on the edge between order and chaos.

Bluejay Feather

Thoughts: Without a doubt, I liked and at times even loved this duology. That said, there are also some aspects I’m not sure how I feel about.

I’ve read the first book multiple times in both physical and audiobook formats. I only do that with books that I adore.

What I liked most about This Savage Song were our protagonists, especially August. I love reading about characters who long to be someone they can never become. I don’t know why this is because this is not the case for me personally, unless the person I want to become is a successful novelist, but that’s not unachievable, just unlikely.

In any case, I recognize that this is a personal bias towards a particular character archetype as opposed to something other readers will feel the same way about.

I flew through the second book in a single day and found it difficult to put down just like the first one. That said, I don’t think I enjoyed Our Dark Duet as much as This Savage Song. 

It’s difficult to determine the cause of these feelings.  I think part of it stems from the fact that the protagonists undergo significant development between books one and two and at the beginning of Our Dark Duet. 

August and Kate have become very different people by the time Our Dark Duet starts. On one hand, the development is believable. On the other hand, I miss who the characters had been.

August and Kate develop a great dynamic in book one. It took a while for the two to start interacting with one another at the start of the book.

A similar amount of time is spent with the characters apart in book two as in book one, but I found myself wanting them together more. I feel like August and Kate lacked some of the synergy they gained in book one throughout book two. The reason for this is explained, but I still found myself missing their interactions.

I also felt like there was a plot-line introduced at the beginning of book two involving the other countries in this universe that was never concluded. This makes me wonder if the author is planning a separate novella or spin-off set in this location.

Part of my lack of satisfaction with book two might involve reading this book so soon after finishing the finale in the Shades of Magic series. Our Dark Duet and A Conjuring of Light had similar plots. 

I can’t go into many details without spoilers, but suffice to say that the similarities stemmed from the nature of the antagonists. Both Our Dark Duet and A Conjuring of Light contained what I consider to be two of Schwab’s least nuanced villains.

This Savage Song, on the other hand, had a plot that felt more different from Schwab’s other novels, though it felt more similar to other books I’d read.

Verity was something I loved in both books. I loved the idea of having monsters appear as a result of people’s sins. The world-building manages to feel simple and complex at the same time. My main complaint about the world-building is that I wanted to see more of it.

Rating: While, I didn’t personally love Our Dark Duet  as much as This Savage Song, I’m putting most of this down to personal bias and giving the series a 4/5 overall rating with 4.5/5 for This Savage Song and a 3.5/5 for Our Dark Duet. 

4 blue jays

Have you read this duology? What did you think? Do you want to read this duology? Have you read any of Schwab’s works in the past? 

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Beautiful People May 2017

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Beautiful People is a monthly writing meme hosted by Cait @Paper Fury and Sky @Further up and Further in in which writers answer a series of questions about one of their characters.

This month I’m talking about Lyle, a character from a science fiction short story I’ve written and am considering turning into a novel length manuscript.

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Overall, how good is their relationship with their parents?

Before the start of my story Lyle would have said his relationship with his parents was good, and in a way it was because they spent so much time together. However, most of this was because Lyle was sheltered and had nothing to compare his relationship with his parents to.

After the story starts Lyle’s relationship with his parents is terrible. Like, too terrible to say anything about without spoilers terrible.

Do they know both their biological parents? If not, how do they cope with this loss/absence and how has it affected their life?

Yes, Lyle knows both his biological human parents very well. Now, his biological nonhuman parents are another story entirely. Thankfully, for most of the story Lyle doesn’t know they exist, and I’m pretty sure they’re dead so . . .

How did their parents meet?

They met in college at a club for finance majors.

How would they feel if they were told “you’re turning out like your parent(s)”?

That would depend on the part of the story I’m at. At the very beginning Lyle would take that as a huge compliment. Throughout the rest of the story, Lyle would take that as a huge insult.

What were your character’s parents doing when they were your character’s age?

Lyle’s mother was being home schooled and helping take care of her five siblings. Lyle’s father was in high school.

Is there something they adamantly disagree on?

Lyle’s parents often disagree on the best way to raise Lyle and when Lyle is old enough to learn certain information.

What did the parent(s) find hardest about raising your character?

This is kind of spoilery but is answered within the equivalent of the first fifty pages, so I’ll answer anyway. The hardest part of raising Lyle is his untimely death, which forces Lyle’s parents to find a way to bring Lyle back to life.

What’s their most vivid memory with their parental figure(s)?

Before the story starts, this would be the time Lyle’s parents sneaked him into a mall in a baby carrier. They got found out and made to leave the store before long, but it was still a great day for Lyle because he’d never been inside a mall before.

What was your character like as a baby/toddler?

That depends. Is this referring to the first time Lyle was a baby or the second time? They were very different experiences. . . . or were these babies two different people? That is the question.

Why and how did the parents choose your character’s name?

Lyle’s parents chose his name because Kyle was a family name. Lyle’s parents thought this was too common but still wanted to be somewhat traditional, so they chose a similar sounding alternative.

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Do my answers to these questions make sense to anyone besides me? Is anyone interested in hearing more about this writing project?

What does everyone think of the feather? It’s new. 

What does everyone think of me asking questions at the end of posts? That’s new too. I’ve seen a lot of people doing it and thought I’d give it a try. 

The Martian by Andy Wier 4.5 Stars

18007564Title: The Martian

Author: Andy Wier

Published: 2011

Genre: Adult Science Fiction

Synopsis: Mark Watney was part of an early mission to Mars, but what had been the opportunity of a life time quickly becomes a disaster. Believing Watney died in a Martian sandstorm, the crew has left Watney behind. The next Mars mission isn’t scheduled to arrive for another four years and Watney’s supplies were designed to last 31 days. With no way to contact NASA, Watney must find a way to defy the odds and survive.

Review: It’s next to impossible to write a good book where the main character is alone almost the whole time, but somehow Andy Weir has managed to pull it off.

This book is extremely well researched. As someone who has done a significant amount of research on Mars for the purpose of writing my first (never to be published) novel which was set on the red planet this is something I really appreciated. One of my issues with Red Rising was that it was clear little to no research had been done on the planet itself despite the fact that the entire book was set there. (Note that I still really enjoyed Red Rising overall in spite of this and gave it four stars.)

Our narrator, Mark Watney, has very strong voice. This allows him to carry the story on his own without it falling apart due to the lack of character interaction. The sections told in third person by members of NASA also add side characters to the story.

The pacing in this book is good. Just when one disaster ended another that somehow seemed even more desperate than the last began. In spite of this, I somehow did not feel as strong an urge to keep flipping pages and keep reading whenever possible as I do with some books. This brings me to my next point.

The reason this loses half a star is due to the fact that I didn’t feel enough emotional attachment to what was going on. I can’t say exactly why this is as the stakes were high at pretty much every moment. It might have something to do with the fact that we never seemed to get to hear much about Mark’s backstory, or at least it seemed that way to me. We heard a little bit about his college life and he mentioned his parents, but beyond that we never got to hear about someone outside of the crew who personally knew and cared about Mark. I think giving someone from Mark’s personal life a little page time or revealing more about his past may have made me care more.

What readers should know: This book is intended for adults. The language would be enough to make it rated R if they kept all of it in the movie, but due in part to the low amount of character interaction the language is just about the only thing that could be potentially deemed inappropriate.

Rating: This is a very realistic depiction of a Mission to Mars. Even though it wasn’t always as gripping as I would have liked it was still a great read and one that I highly recommend to readers who are even the slightest bit interested in Mars or space exploration.

4.5 blue jays

August 2015 Wrap-Up

August was a great reading month. I read nine books: one adult sci-fi, three adult fantasy, and five young adult fantasy. I also started revisions on one of my writing projects.

From now on I’m going to be splitting my monthly wrap-ups into three sections: reading, writing, and blogging.

Reading

The Martian by Andy WeirShort Synopsis: Astronaut is stranded on Mars.

Thoughts: A very realistic, well researched portrayal. Though I really liked it, the book didn’t always grip me as much as I would like. Review to come.

Rating:

 4.5 blue jays

Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson

Short Synopsis: A princess is forced into a marriage to the mysterious “God-King” in an attempt to prevent war between too nations. While this princess settles in to life in the foreign palace her sister tries desperately to free her.

Thoughts: Once again Brandon Sanderson’s world building proves extraordinary. The plot is captivating and unpredictable, the breath and color based magic system is well thought out and unlike any I’ve read before. For my full thoughts see my review.

Rating:

 five blue jays

Elantris by Brandon SandersonShort Synopsis: Elantris was once the city of the gods. Now it is a city of the living dead.

Thoughts: I can really tell this is the first novel Brandon Sanderson published. His prose were really clunky and this is the only Sanderson novel where I’ve skimmed sections. Still an overall enjoyable read though, it’s interesting to see how much Sanderson has improved over the years.

Rating: 

4 blue jays

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. SchwabShort Synopsis: Kell is one of the only people left who can travel between parallel worlds. Kell uses his ability to illegally smuggle objects between worlds. One day an object Kell smuggles turns out to be especially dangerous and it’s up to Kell to dispose of it before it’s too late.

Thoughts: I haven’t read a lot of books about parallel worlds, but when done right it’s a topic I find intriguing. There were times when I felt this story felt a little predictable and the characters not as developed as I would like, but it was an excellent read overall. Review to come.

Rating:

4.5 blue jays

The Heart of Betrayal by Mary E. Pearson

Short Synopsis: A princess struggles to free herself from expectations of her. Book two in the Heart of Betrayal series.

Thoughts: I’m surprised how much I liked this one as I had mixed feelings about the first, but there were certain aspects I really liked. Review to come.

Rating:

4 blue jays

The Demon King by Cinda Williams ChimaThe Exiled Queen by Cinda Williams ChimaThe Gray Wolf Throne by Cinda Williams ChimaThe Crimson Crown by Cinda Williams Chima

Short Synopsis: A thousand years ago one nation became seven and the world was shattered during a terrible disaster. Now Han, an ex-thief, and Raisa, the princess heir, must learn from the past in hopes of a better future. The entire Seven Realms series.

Thoughts: The pacing at the beginning was a bit slow, but once I got into these I just couldn’t seem to put them down. I read the last three over what was primarily a two day period of time. The world building is some of the best I’ve read in YA (in a lot of YA it tends to be lacking), and the characters were so much fun. I’m surprised this series isn’t more popular. Can’t wait for the spin-off series Shattered Realms.

Rating: 

4.5 blue jays

Currently Reading: 

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Writing 

What I wrote last month: In August I started revisions on my high fantasy work in progress. It’s working title is A Rose Like Death, and it was my project for NaNoWriMo last November. Most of what I’ve been doing so far is rearranging the files of chapters and scenes into an order I think would better fit the story. (I use Scrivener.)

My main focus right now is big picture edits and making everything flow. I’m also doing a lot of rewriting to change my main character, Yuliana’s, voice because the narration feels too distant at the moment. Feedback from everyone who has read the first chapter has been very positive overall with most issues involving grammatical and sentence construction errors that I don’t intend to fix until far later. Everyone seemed to have a much better grasp of the world building and character dynamics than I expected by the end of chapter one, and each person who read it had a different theory about the direction the plot would take. Only one really got anywhere near to the truth.

What I plan to write next month: I plan to continue with what will become the second draft of A Rose Like Death. Now that summer is over progress is going to slow and the goal is to have it finished by October 31 so I can start a new project for NaNoWriMo in November, but I’m not sure if that is realistic yet.

Blogging

I know I’m behind on my tags. It might take me a while to get them posted, but I haven’t forgotten about them. I’ve been tagged for the quote a day challenge and my blog has been given the Liebaster Award, but have yet to post about them. I’m planning to combine the quote a day challenge into one day instead of three because I post once a week and like to keep it consistent.

Read or write anything interesting in August? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!