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Distortion Critique 3

So I put out scene one from Distortion for a writer's critique. Here was the result:

It's amazing how awesome this feedback was. You can live with your stuff long enough that you become blind to it. I have a lot of work to do (first novel) but I've studied the craft long enough to understand everything everyone is saying. Besides all the specific points, the two themes I noticed were a lack of emotional/physical reaction (nothing to keep you in Ash's head) and the Great Sin (show don't tell). I also changed tense and didn't notice (no that was not on purpose). There were many other great points, and I have a lot of work to do. Thanks again to for making a community for writers.

Opening Comments

Like the title, like the concept.  I'll talk about the more technical issues as I go

Inline Critique

Out of the corner of his eye, through the window of The Grounded Cafe, Ash saw two men dressed in black combat gear duck behind a car.
I like the opening as it immediately places me in Ash's world.  I like the name of the cafĂ© as it quickly becomes apparent that Ash is anything but grounded.  I also like how Ash is an Airman back in civilian life and so is 'grounded.'  A lot of thought went into the name, which I appreciate more on the second reading.  Gives the beginning a surreal edginess.

Coolness rushed down his spine, and his muscles tensed.
I didn't buy this as a description of his response.  'Coolness rushed down his spine' is a bit too prosaic.

He reached for his sidearm.

He shook his head, and looked again, they were gone.

Ash relaxed and sank back into the leather bound chair; alone, in the corner
repetition of the word corner - jars me out of the storyof his favorite coffee shop.

Always keep your back to the wall, be near the most exits, but never too visible. It was like breathing, it never stopped... even in civilian life. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD. That was the diagnosis they’d assigned him.

As Dean of Military Science, Ash's job primarily lay in administrative work and policy these days, plus a few sessions counseling the younger cadets, and would-be trouble makers. He was
quite overqualified for the position, but he ran a tight unit.

He stared at the faces of the pedestrians as they passed by the window. Hurried. Busy. Buried in their smartphones. So oblivious to the world around them, or the little clouds that float around their shoulders.
should be 'floated'.  This gives a nice introduction into Ash's issue.  It helps to make the rest of the story more believable

The leaves began to fall, most turning shades of orange and yellow, matching perfectly the Pumpkins that were dotting porches and windows through the city the past few weeks.
This is a great, great description.  It tells me exactly what season it is without mentioning it by name.  It also gives a good indicator of the type of place Ash inhabits.

Some commotion outside broke his train of thought...
what train of thought?  All he was doing was watching people in the street.  he wasn't thinking about anything Everyone was stopping, turning, and staring in the same direction, a few moving toward the distraction.
thisthis sentence needs work. maybe break it up into two.

Ash stepped outside to see what was happening, turned a corner, and nearly ran into a bystander.
what happens to this bystander? why is he there, other than to highlight Ash is distracted. A brisk evening breeze broke past his collar.
I like this description.  Nice alliteration, but it seems to come from nowhere.  Ash doesn't even respond to it.

A man in a tattered and dirty suit with a graying beard was standing on top of a pickup truck screaming at nobody in particular.

"You always did love Mother best... I know... That's why... You couldn't keep your mouth shut..." On he went, incoherently.

Just as Ash took a step closer,
why did he take a step closer?  does he know the guy?  does he just enjoy watching a freakshow?  You need to be clearer in showing the character's motivationsthe man turned to stare him directly in the eye.

In a deeper, gravelly voice: "You... What do you want with us?"

Ash took a step back.

Then the man turned back to his one-sided conversation.

Ash could see a large creature behind the man. The bottom half was more mist than form, as though it were made of smoke.
he's either mist or smoke.  they're two different things and can't be bothThe top half was like a man, with the head of a bull. It was charcoal,
withstreaks of white painted across the chest.

 could feel his palms turn cold, and he felt as though he couldn't move his legs.
I don't think palms ever turn cold.  It's an odd description and not needed here

A smaller creature was on the homeless man's shoulders, screaming into his ears.
I love this bit.  It illustrates madness beautifully.  It makes me sad for the homeless man while wondering why Ash sees it and no-one else does.He couldn't hear the conversation, but Ash could tell that the homeless man was responding and that he had only been hearing one-half of the conversation. Ash looked around and nobody else seemed too surprised, as usual.

The large creature stared directly at Ash, cocked his head to one side and disappeared along with the smaller one. The homeless man was by himself again, then his eyes narrowed. He leapt off the truck and ran at Ash.
I don't know why the homeless man suddenly decides to charge Ash, especially as the creatures tormenting him have disappeared.  Could they talk to the man one last time before disappearing?  Seemingly urging him to attack Ash?

It took all his training to keep from being pinned down. The old man was wiry but stronger than he looked.
Feels like I missed something here.  Where's the fighting part?

Ash let out a cry, "Jesus!"

The wiry man stepped back, his eyes darted around, as though he looked confused.

That was all Ash needed. In 30 seconds he hog-tied the man with his own belt.
ThisThis fight is over before it even began.  I would give a good description here to add a bit of action.

The police were just arriving. "Charlie's at it again... Let's take him in."
I like how he is known to the police.  it adds character to the homeless man

Three big men in uniform put cuffs and a muzzle on the old man, and threw him, rather harshly, into the back of the squad car.

Ash heard someone behind him, "Those were some moves, Marine."

"Airman. Uh... Thanks. No harm done." Ash noticed his cup crushed beneath him, the ice, coffee, and cream covered the sidewalk, and his jeans. "Well... Almost no harm anyway."

"Why don't you let me get you another… on me."

Ash looked up to see a balding man in blue slacks, yellow polo, and a pile of papers in his arms.
You should describe this man as soon as the conversation begins.  It feels like Ash has began a conversation without looking at him.  I get that Ash is distracted by his lost cup of coffee, but the exchange feels unnatural without immediate eye contact A logo with two E’s overlapping bore prominently on his chest.
this is a nice detail I feel will become important further into the narrative

"The least I could do for a man who'd be willing to step into a situation like that, protect all these people. What's your name son?"

"Ash. I need to get some new clothes. I don't think I need any more caffeine right now. But thanks for the offer." With a wave, he set off toward home.
It feels like you have written off this encounter as nothing important when it clearly is.  Perhaps you could add something like 'Ash noticed the stranger watching him as he walked away and it made him uncomfortable'.  Just something to show the bald man has an interest in him, even though Ash has none in him.

Ash headed down the sidewalk, past the shops and restaurants. There is a girl crying,
written in present tense, should be past, unless I'm missing somethingtyping away on the phone. A little red frog on her shoulder was yelling into her ear.
I like how these creatures don't have to be humanoid.  they could be anything.  I don't think you need the next sentence.  I would think Ash wasn't trying to imagine the other side of the conversation at all Ash could only imagine what it must be saying.

A little old lady is sitting inside a window at the nursing home. She is knitting something, probably a blanket. A large man in all white, stands behind her, smiling. He looks up at Ash, his smile fades slightly, and then returns. He looks down to her again.
If these encounters are written in present tense in order to differentiate them from the rest of the narrative, I don't think it works.  It's a bit too distracting.

Ash could not see the figure accompanying each person, only certain ones, here and there. Most were just clouds or mist.
Don't need this explanation here.  I am getting the gist of what is going on.  I don't need to have it spelled out and ruin the tension

"Don't worry so much." His doctor told him, "These may be after effects of the war. We’re just beginning to understand PTSD. The mind is a marvelous adapter to stress. As long as these phantoms do not interrupt your daily work, or cause you to want to harm yourself or others, you should be fine. Consider yourself lucky. Just think of them as a construct of your active imagination, an amusing distraction from the mundane realities of life."

He turned off the street into an alley between two old buildings, and up a well-worn path into the woods, his refuge from the masses.
If he has walkedIf he has walked from a town into the woods, you need more description of his surroundings to help convey the passage of time it took to make his journey

Ash opened the door of his cabin.

It wasn't a mansion by any means, but it was more than sufficient for him. 900 sq. ft., one large open room, a loft, and a balcony.

Yes sir, he owned one fine cabin in the woods. All to himself. How he'd managed to live here eight years and still not have a single friend invited over was a mystery, even to himself. Then again, you'd have to have a friend to invite one.

He liked things just so. He liked the solitude.

At least that's what he told himself.

Ash took a seat on his balcony, overlooking the hills and lake. He stared at the expansive forests, lost in time. The clock read: 6:00pm, he laid down in his hammock, bundled in the overpriced winter resistant sleeping bag, and watched the stars from the balcony until he drifted off.

As sleep overtook him, he thought to himself "Yes sir, this is one fine cabin."
Nice ending to this bit.  As soon as a character expresses contentment, the reader automatically assumes that will be disrupted.  It's exciting


An explosion knocks him against a wall. He barely sees,
should this comma be here? through the smoke, troops running about, hauling rubble off
of bodies, checking pulses. Some are screaming in pain. Others shouting to one another. Half the mess hall is completely gone, all that is left is fire and rubble.
I think if this is a stream of consciousness type dream, the punctuation should either all be commas or all full stops.  Mixing the two confuses things

Ash can feel the beat of his heart in his neck,
I like this description his forehead rushed with sweat.
do foreheads get rushed with sweat?He sees them all running around, but all he hears is intense ringing.
repetition of the word 'all'

As the numbness subsides from his brain,
judging by the writing, I'm surprised Ash feels numb. My heart is racing!shock waves hit his chest as more buildings are getting hit nearby.

Ash uses the wall to steady himself and works to stand on his feet.

Others will tend to the wounded. This band of Jihadist miscreants
this is just a personal thing, but I've never thought of Jihadists as miscreants?  I would use that word to describe teenage tearaways not extremists. found upgraded weapons; Russian no doubt.

Ash shoots out the building, down the road to the artillery unit. He grabs his rifle and heads for the highest structure, a radio tower toward the side of the camp.

He can see the launch area
fromwhere the rockets are being fired
from. He takes a few quick breaths, hyperventilating floods the lungs with oxygen
this sentence doesn't make sense to me, one last deep breath in and hold, steadies his body.

Through the scope, he can see about 10 of them.
are there ten or about ten?  It only matters because you are so detailed when it comes to counting them down each time Ash kills one of them.

They only have two missile launchers. They have very little cover, firing from open desert, mostly hiding behind their Jeep and a few large outcroppings of fallen mountainside.

He fires two rounds back to back, taking out both missile launchers, one exploding in the handlers face. Ash then begins firing one round after another as the attackers fall like Coke cans on a fence post.
like this imageThe rounds hit their targets with extreme prejudice.

Three remain, cowering behind the Jeep. Jeeps
repetition of jeep are great vehicles for driving through tough terrain quickly, but they are built light, not armored. He sees one peek through the glass, gone.

The other two attempt to climb in the vehicle keeping their heads down and drive away. The problem with that is that both seats are occupied. He doesn't need to see them. Two. One.

The Jeep speeds up as it drives erratically, then crashes into a mound of rocks.


Ash woke up... another nightmare, if you can call a memory a nightmare.

He rubbed his eyes and glanced at his wrist.

Red numbers flooded his vision, 3:00 am.

He rolled over and went back to sleep.

Closing Comments

There are lots of things to like about this with a lot of scope for you to explore.  I like how Ash is an ordinary man with extraordinary things going on around him.  There is also an interesting question over whether he is suffering PTSD or there is something larger at stake.
I think there are a few things you might like to improve upon.  I like the short paragraphs as it adds pace, but without longer, more descriptive passages it lacks depth.  Swapping and changing between the two keeps the reader engaged. 
There is no physical description of Ash, which makes him difficult to identify with.  He is coming across as a loner, which is fine, but he also feels cold and indifferent.  He hog ties a troubled homeless man without thinking twice.  In his dream, he shoots other human beings as if they were nothing more than Coke cans on a fence.  He wakes from his nightmare and goes back to sleep!  It's hard to engage with a character like that unless you imbue him with a few human characteristics.
The dream sequence starts well - all short sentences and action, but toward the end, it becomes more poetic and descriptive.  I think doing it either way is fine (though I prefer the short, choppy sentences), but using both techniques alters the tone of the writing halfway through and is a bit jarring.
The one thing I can't understand is the end of your chapter and how it works so well.  Basically, he goes to sleep.  Everything I know about writing tells me there should be a hook or a tease to make the reader want to turn the page.  You've somehow done that without using that tired tradition.  I genuinely do not know how you did it, but the ending to Chapter 1 makes me want to read Chapter 2!
Thanks for letting me read this.  if you think I've been harsh or useless, I'm sorry.  I only offer my opinion in the hope it will help.
Good luck 

By Darrell Wolfe

Storyteller | Creative | INFJ | Intellection | Ideation | Input | Learner | Achiever | Multipotentialite




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    Here are some books I've been reading lately:
    • Hacker: The Outlaw Chronicles (here) by Ted Dekker (Author). The story of a young Hacker girl, who went on a wild adventure into the supernatural realm beyond trying to save her mom, but saved her self too in the process.
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