It can be awfully hard to evaluate your own novel objectively. As such I’m hoping bribe some of you to give some feedback on my novel: https://www.royalroad.com/fiction/28793/the-crimson-crow-thief-of-fortune.
I’ve presently completed five chapters which I feel is a little pre-emptive for a review, so instead I’m specifically soliciting feedback.
1) Do you find my story blurb engaging or interesting? If not how does it lose your interest?
2) Is there anything I should be doing stylistically or formatting wise to make my chapters more readable for RR’s digital format?
3) Are there any commonly recurring grammatical errors, tense changes, or stylistic gripes you noticed in my writing?
4) I’ve been switching perspectives a fair bit in the early chapters to help establish the story. Do you find the effect disjointed or frustrating, or have I successfully kept it engaging & cohesive?
5) Do you have any other general comments that you feel would help me improve my writing?
I promised you a bribe, so here it is. If you’re willing to read or skim through my work and answer my questions I will read chapters and provide feedback or a review for a story of your choice. (Disclaimer: if your story is longer than 10 chapters I will read at least 10 chapters, prior to offering feedback or a review.) If you answer my questions please include a link to the story you’d like me to take a look at, and let me know if you’re looking for a feedback or a review.
If I close this offer, I’ll edit this message to reflect that.
Thanks for your attention. :)
But the chapter itself is more problematic.
You're skipping around between past and present tense constantly, even within the same sentences. Very disconcerting. I'd highly recommend picking one and sticking with it.
When she looked down she can see that she is falling
Past - present.
You need to decide which tense to go with. Either 'When she looked down she could see that she was falling' or 'She looks down and can see that she is falling' but not both.
The initial chapter feels very disjointed. It's not entirely clear what's going on, and the fact that she's fleeing after a theft is the sort of thing I feel should be clear earlier than the end. It isn't a very impactful reveal apart from 'oh, I guess that's why she thought she might be followed'.
I subsequently changed my mind after writing other chapters and attempted to switch it to being written in past tense.
I thought I’d caught all the instances of present tense during the edit. (Though I’ve never been particularly good at recognizing tenses) So that’s embarrassing.
Thanks for taking a look at it. Guess I should go back over the first chapter again and try and fix any instances of mixed tense.
The tense changes were already mentioned, but that wasn't really my issue with this chapter. The premise was interesting. She started out falling instead of locked in some random battle like so many other stories. But it was hard to follow the transitions between her actions, her thoughts, and the imagery regarding her physical state. Part of that is because the chapter needs some editing, but you might consider chopping up the paragraphs a bit to ease those transitions, and definitely italicize her thoughts or give some other kind of indicator.
The three important parts I gathered were her stealing a vial, being pursued for that vial, and surviving her fall in that order of importance. Although, reading through the chapter, that all was explained in reverse order which kind of added to the confusion.
I knew she was falling, but the imagery was a bit too meta to really sort between her spell and the landing. I almost thought the green leaves were part of a dream sequence or astral plane or something else related to the spell.
When she was hiding, that part was a bit ambiguous as well. Her actions and surrounds weren't real clear.
Then we found out about the vial. For me personally, I'd give a short set up at the start, just so the rest of the chapter has some direction. Maybe something like "She clutched the vial close as she fell through the air, her pursuers waiting not far behind." (That's a terrible example) but basically the general idea is to set up the story in the first couple lines. The cliche example that's always used is Stephen King's Dark Tower series. "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed." That's pretty much everything you need to know right off the bat in a nutshell. (And taking it a bit further, the entire story in a nutshell, though going that far isn't necessary)
I like the mystery of the vial, it leaves me wanting to know why she pinned her hopes on it, even though I didn't feel like any of that needed explained in this chapter.
Personally, I like concise prose that's straight to the point. Everyone has different tastes, but at least with concise, the reader won't have much trouble following along.
Nitpicky, but it's usually not a good idea to use actual numbers (37th street). I don't always do that because I think 'Exit 41' looks better than 'Exit Forty-one', but writing out W 37th street is a bit distracting in a paragraph. The date up top (May 22nd 2018) isn't bothersome since it's all off on it's own, but it's a bit different when numbers mix into a sea of letters.
I don't know enough to critique whether or not it's acceptable to go from 3rd person limited immediately to omniscent, but I really like the tone of this chapter. It reads really well, and almost like the start of a whimsical fairy tale, bluntly stating the gory details matter-of-factly. Then the forshadowing about the princesses problems soon to become everyone's problems. Words like 'befell' give it that old timey vibe, makes it intersting. And the chain reaction of unfortunate benign events was fun to read--though, I'm puzzled why the princess was bored staring at a glowing statue in an undiscovered cave? Personality traits can only go so far.
The transition from high fantasy to pure science fiction was jarring. Going from demons destroying a magic castle to nebula N14-2 is a bit too much. Although, I do want to keep reading because right at the start, it's foreshadowing another unfortunate chain of events, just like the previous high fantasy section. Can't go wrong with those.
I think if you really emphasize the similarites between the unfortunate chain reactions linking these stories, you might be able to pull it off. The jarring part comes from thinking these wildly different stories have nothing to do with one another, no so much the change in setting. (After reading the start of the third chapter, with Kia, a fantasy character talking about escaping an intergalactic organization, the high fantasy to sci-fi makes sense, though you might consider establishing that in the first chapter.)
The jargon and proper names in the exposition of the first few paragraphs is a lot to take in all at once, especially since at the same time, I'm still trying to figure out the setting this story takes place in. It'd be much easier if the setting was already established as a sci-fi world with magic and high fantasy elements.
The magic ban and spontaneous monster bit really explains a lot. After that, I feel like I'm up to speed with what happened with the princess and how it ties in. Though the other two are a bit of a mystery, as is what happened to her pursuers.
So far, I can accept that Kia is third person limited while the rest is omniscent, but paragraphs like "From below it surely was a strage sight--" switches narrations. That paragraph reads like someone is watching her, explaining her movements instead of she herself narrating them.
Other than the jargon at the beginning, this Kia chapter read much smoother. I completely understood what was going on and what the stakes were.
Always start a new paragraph after dialogue.
Recounting how many seconds it took him to get dressed tells me alot about his ritualistic nature, but it's not really believable unless you make a note of him marking the time. Though it's a great way to avoid exposition.
At first I thought he was on Earth, heading out to investigate the scene where the man got bisected by a window pane, but the 'transportation nexus' clued me into this being off-world. And that bit was just early enough in the chapter that my view of the setting was still flexible as much as this story jumped around. It might not work if you established it too much later on, though.
Ah! Luck. Now it all clicks. Great way to make all those disparate plots cohesive. Though, I will mark you down a bit for point blank throwing real world politics into the mix, that's really a big pet peeve of mine in novels. With how much it's been over the news here in real life, reading about the how the luck redistribution program works took me completely out of the story. If it was nuanced to the point where if I really thought about it, I could draw real world parallels, parallels that were otherwise irrelevant, then it'd work well.
Crimson Crow! Bum bum bum bum. We have our big bad, one that I now understand impacted every story so far.
This was a bit of an exposition chapter and the politics were a little too heavy handed for my tastes, but it really explained a lot. It's like you purposefully set up a scattered world at the beginning to keep things interesting and just in these last two chapters, it's all tying together nicely.
Kia is definitely the MC at this point and her chapters are reading much clearer now that the setting and the stakes are established.
I like how you built in the suspense of her being caught in the trap and the two creatures she called out to being honor bound to kill her because of that. The switch in POV makes her situation much more suspenseful actaully knowing what will happen and wishing it wouldn't. The alternative, leaving me to wonder whether they are allies or foes isn't near as engaging since the stakes aren't made clear.
Honestly, a bit of a letdown they immediatly cut her free after stating how they were honorbound to kill her.
The second chapter was definitely my favorite. That omniscent story-book, matter-of-fact style was a lot of fun to read, as were the chains of unfortunate events. The princess one already came into play when you mentioned monsters being unleased, hopefully the other two do as well.
The first chapter was tough to get through, that's the weakest one for sure. Really, the problems with it still extend to the others, though they are written much better from there on out.
Mostly, it just needs some editing. The story is great and certainly original, but it's bogged down by the rough draft feel. A lot of wordiness, repetitive phrases, and rough transitions between thoughts, actions, and meta. It'd help to split the paragraphs up, but mostly, it just needs a good going over.
Despite the story, I probably wouldn't have read as far as I did if it weren't for the review just because of the editing.
You can get away with a lot in a standard MC power fantasy where everyone already knows the story before it's written, but in a work like yours that aims to be a multi-POV epic, the bar for grammar is much higher since the reader is expected to use more brainpower to figure out what's going on, brainpower that's already partially being spent sorting through grammar.
For comprehension, I understood that the pieces of the first two chapters were already coming together at the start of the third chapter. Right then, I had faith that it would all be explained if I kept reading. So for that, it was just fine. The only part I'd change is making the stakes and setting of the first chapter clear right off the get go. Even the high-fantasy to sci-fi transition in the next chapter was fine despite being a bit jarring at first.
I like the originality and the blend of magic and sci-fi. Really seems like it's going for that 'high science is indistinguishable from magic' type system.
Thanks so much for your detailed look through my fiction.
I’ve got good news and bad news.
The goods news is in addition to the feedback above I got another hefty does of feedback by PM and I spent tonight completely reworking Chapter 1. I think I’ve remedied a lot of the problems you noted in it. With two exceptions.
I still haven’t done enough to distinguish thoughts from narration. Italics do seem like a good idea. I’ll slide those into the next revision.
The vial still comes up quite later in the chapter. Much later actually because I spent more time narrating Kia’s situation. I think I’ve got a good place to interest an earlier reference to it now so I’ll insert that along with the italics.
On numbers: Noted. That should be a nice easy fix.
I’ll have to tweak the reference to boredom at the end of the princess story. The intention was to highlight that her initial boredom caused all of the events. Not to suggest the cave bored her. Ideally the prose should make that immediately obvious and in this case it failed its job. Thanks for letting me know.
I’m delighted you enjoyed it! One of the most common suggestions I got was to bump it a bit later in the story. So that’s what I think I’m going to do. I’ve temporarily removed the chapter from RR entirely with the intention of including it (along with a brand new chapter) in a later update. I think by shifting it later in the narrative it’ll help remove some of the modern to high-fantasy to sci-fi shock and readers will more naturally notice the link between the stories since I’ll already have introduced the luck aspect.
Thanks for your suggestions for some tweaks to the chapter. I think it’ll be that much stronger when I rerelease it in its new spot in the narrative.
Chapter 3 (Now, Chapter 2)
Once I finish the changes to Chapter One this the next chapter getting a bit of revision.
All the acronyms and names at the beginning is a little much for sure. You’ve got me wondering if I should add a prologue to this fiction to introduce the world a bit more. I could probably write a neat little story about the UMC, League of Cygnus and the magic ban that gave readers an introduction to the world right away. Which would allow me to shorten some of those elements in this chapter. I’m a little bit attached to starting the story in media res. But if the setting is confusing that would be one good way to remedy it.
I’ll flip through chapter 3 and see if I can’t deal with those elements of shifting out of 3rd person limited.
Guilty as charged. This is the first chapter with a significant amount of dialogue. I should probably go through it and find the place were dialogue me to form a new paragraph.
Maybe I’ll have him toss a timer on his phone when the call ends. Seems like an elegant solution.
Like chapter 2 I’ve temporarily removed this chapter from RR. So that I can move it later in the story. I’m thinking maybe having this chapter come before chapter 2 when I reintroduce it. I think that would help avoid making it feel too earth like. That or I need to describe the world more as he’s driving through it.
I thought I had done a good job keeping my fictional politics fairly neutral. The goal was to portray the UMC as a society that thought of itself as utopian. While leaving it up to the reader to decide how utopian it was based on this and future chapters.
I can’t really imagine taking out discussion of the in-universe politics of the luck distribution policy. Any suggestions on how to improve the nuance so it doesn’t take you out the story? I’ve got a bit of time before we reach the point in the narrative where this chapter needs to be republished, I’d be happy to work on that.
I’m glad you liked the multiple perspectives in chapter 5. It’s probably the chapter I’m happiest with so far.
I had hoped that the shift in their attitudes, due to Fen declaring her not prey. Would be the sigh of relief that released the tension that I’d been building during the chapter. I’m sorry that you instead found it disappointing. I’ll have to take a look and see if there is anything I can do to maybe either carry some of that tension through or make that less of a let down.
Thanks so much for the thorough feedback. I’ve been posting 3rd revisions of the story. But the comments of yourself and others definitely demonstrated some great places to improve. I’ve already started to work my way through a new revision of the chapters I’ve already posted, and I’ll maybe add another pass to existing drafts before I post them.
Hopefully as I revise the chapters they’ll become easier to read, and with the changes I’m making to the chapter order readers like yourself won’t be left taking me on faith that its all going to come together. Because the threads will be more immediately available for them to work out.
I think one of the main things I need to figure out a good way to do is to make the setting clearer to the reader.
Thanks for pointing out where my story is lacking. I really appreciate it.
Thinking back to the politics you were asking about, it very well could have been me interjecting my own thoughts into the story and not an issue with the story itself. I'm certainly no professional and every critique I gave was based on opinion and my own really basic understanding of story structure.
I related it to politics because that blurb about redistributing luck read exactly like the real-world issue of redistributing wealth to the lower classes. Pretty much interchange 'luck' for 'wealth' and it could have been verbatim.
For me, I read fantasy for the escapism. The real world is a very angry place right now and I like to relax and forget about the talking heads for a while. So when that blurb popped up, it took me out of the story, reminding me about what every news channel is arguing about these days.
Surely there's a lot of people who would disagree with me there, so it may not be an issue, but if you wanted to make people like me read on, I'd make the parallel much more vague, maybe alluding to the redistribution of luck without actually stating it outright. Though from what you said, it sounds like that's contrary to where you want your story to go. So, grain of salt.