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Distortion Critique 4

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

Hi, Darell.
I'll mention anything that jumps at me.  I'm not good at rewriting sentences. Instead, I'll point out what I think needs work.
See you inline.

Inline Critique

I read a few paragraphs down and realised that the description of the setting doesn't flow. So, I'll point out those places I think need work.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
Here, it'd be great to be specific with type of car. Is it a pick up? a 4x4?.

Coolness rushed down his spine, and his muscles tensed.

He reached for his sidearm.

He shook his head
Is he shaking his head as a result of having a second thought?, and looked again, they were gone.
If yes, then you can rewrite this as: He shook his head upon a second thought. When he looked again, the men were gone. I decided to split the sentence into two because I thought the original one was choppy.

Ash relaxed and sank back into the leather bound chair;
I'm not sure this is the correct punctuation mark for this sentence. I think...alone in the corner of his favourite coffee shop is a fragment. One way to do this is to bring it close to the Subject. E.g., Ash, alone in the corner of his favorite coffee shop, sank back into the leather bound chair. This is just one example of how to get rid of the semi-colon. Also, I deleted relaxed, as the action of leaning back into the chair, especially after he almost drew his gun, means he relaxed. This is just my opinion. alone, in the corner of his favorite coffee shop.

Always keep your back to the wall, be near the most exits
do you mean the most used exits? If so, make it most used exists., but never too visible
once he seated in a cafe he would be visible. But something like he should glance at people suspiciously or he shouldn't be engaged in anything that would draw people's attention to himIt was like breathing, it never stopped... even in civilian life. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD.
Here, swap the order of these two sentences. Bring the condition first, so that we know what the 'it' is referring to.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,
you don't need a comma here. You are only listing his roles.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.
I know what you are trying to do here, but it doesn't flow. Make these three into one sentence. Besides, if the pedestrians are passing hurriedly, how long can he actually see someone's face. It'd be better to say that, He stared at pedestrians who hurried by, buried in their smart phones, oblivious to the world and the little clouds that floated around their shoulders. Buried in their smartphones. So oblivious to the world around them, or the little clouds that float around their shoulders.

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.
Here, you need to make reference to a particular tree. Which tree exactly is he looking at? Is it the one across the cafe? Beside the cafe? Do you get what I mean? Also, it'd be better to say that a leaf fell from the tree. It is easier to picture what is happening to the tree in question. Since it's a regional thing that at a particular time of the year the leaves change colour, once you mention the colour of the leaves, we would be able to picture the time of year. There would be no need to mention the pumpkin, unless the pumpkin is there to convey another message I'm not getting.

Some commotion outside broke his train of thought... Everyone was stopping, turning, and staring in the same direction, a few moving toward the distraction.
Since from where he is sitting, he can't really see the commotion, you can't say that there was a commotion. These people could only be admiring a couple doing a crazy dance. So you can say that, suddenly every halted and looked in the same direction. The voice of people arguing reached him. (INSERT A THOUGHT HERE) Ash stepped outside to see what was happening.

Ash stepped outside to see what was happening, turned a corner, and 
nearly ran into a bystander. A brisk evening breeze broke past his collar.
If the thing is happening in the next alley, then people on the side of the road where Ash is looking would not see what's happening. I crossed out ...nearly ran into a... The question is, did he run into the bystander or not? If not, what exactly happened? To avoid these type of questions, it's better to say exactly what happened.

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.
I'm finding it hard to picture what this mini scene is happening. Is this on the next street? It'd be great to show the exact location for the scene. Also, how were people gathered around them? Are they watching in clusters? Or they formed a circle around them?

"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, the 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
I don't know if you've heard this. But we're not allowed to use filter words in writer. Filter words indicate telling instead of showing. So, in this case, you can say that, Behind the man was a large, black figure with the head of a bull and the lower part only a mist. White streaks ran across it's torso, and it's eyes were red like a hot iron. a large creature behind the man. The bottom half was more mist than form, as though it were made of smoke.
Oh! The top half was like a man, with the head of a bull. It was charcoal,
andwith streaks of white painted across the chest.

so, here were delete thiscould feel his
because it's a filter wordpalms turn
ed cold, and
he felt as though
filter wordshe couldn't move his legs.
You simply say, Ash halted, his palms turning cold.

A smaller creature was on the homeless man's shoulders, screaming into his ears. 
Wouldn't this be the first thing Ash would notice when he arrived at the scene?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.
It'd be better to show what they were doing instead.

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.
Hahaha, trouble.

It took all his training to keep from being pinned down.
Okay, did he run for his life? Or he stood there, waiting for the man to pounce on him?The old man was wiry but stronger than he looked.
This is telling. Instead, have him struggle and to push the thing off him and let's him grunt in the attempt.

Ash let out a cry, "Jesus!"

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

That was all Ash needed. In 30 seconds he hog-tied the man with his own belt.

The police were just arriving. "
Let's hear the siren.Charlie's at it again... Let's take him in."
Let's have a dialogue tag here.

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."
I don't understand this. It read like he was carried a cup of coffee with him when he ran out of the cafe.

"Why don't you let me get you another… on me."
You need a dialogue tag here.

Ash looked up to see a balding man in blue slacks, yellow polo, and a pile of papers in his arms. A logo with two E’s overlapping bore prominently on his chest.

"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?"
Same thing here. We need a dialogue tag.

"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.

Ash headed down the sidewalk, past the shops and restaurants. There is a girl crying, typing away on the phone. A little red frog on her shoulder was yelling into her ear. Ash could only imagine what it must be saying.
You've switched to present tense. Why?

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.

Let's see the distance between the phonebooth and the nursing home.
Ash could not see the figure accompanying each person, only certain ones, here and there. Most were just clouds or mist.

"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."
Here, add what Ash thinks about the Doctor's statement.

He turned off the street into an alley between two old buildings,
How tall are these buildings? and up a well-worn path into the woods, his refuge from the masses.

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.
This is telling. Instead, have him enter and describe how the space between the television and the bed is so small that, he can control the buttons on the TV with his toes without having to get up.

Yes sir, he owned one fine cabin in the woods. All to himself. 
I don't like this.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.
I like this.

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
where's the clock?: 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."


An explosion knocks him against a wall. He barely sees, 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.
You have switched tenses here. Are you doing it deliberately? If you are not aware, then I have just told you that you have switched to present tense. Also, it'd be interesting to describe this vividly. Which people are screaming in pain?

Ash can feel the beat of his heart in his neck,
if this is a metaphor, then ignore me. Otherwise I don't understand it. his forehead rushed with sweat
Same thing here. If this is a regional thing, then leave as it is. But I really haven't heard anything like this beforeHe
who is the 'he' referring to?sees them all running around, but all he hears is intense ringing
ringing of what? Bells?.

As the numbness subsides
I don't think I realised his brain was numb in the paragraph before this one.from his brain, shock waves
IMO, this should be waves of shock 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 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 where the rockets are being fired from. He takes a few quick breaths, hyperventilating floods the lungs with oxygen, one last deep breath in and hold, steadies his body.

Through the scope, he can see about 10 of them.
10 of which people? Are they even people or aliens?

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. The rounds hit their targets with extreme prejudice.

Three remain, cowering behind the Jeep. Jeeps 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,
You need only one.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.
Nice way to end the scene. But then, where do we go from here? Why would I turn the page? That hasn't been added. So you need to end the chapter with a cliffhanger and what to expect next.

Closing Comments

I commented on most of the things that jumped at me. I focused on the narration, but not on the character. I hope something in this critique helps!
It was an easy read for me. 


By Darrell Wolfe

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


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    Darrell's Reading List

    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.
    • Saint: A Paradise Novel (here) by Ted Dekker (Author). He's an assassin, or is he? He finds a secret to his past that unlocks supernatural abilities, at a cost.
    • For a full list of all my book suggestions, see my Amazon Store.

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