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Monday, September 19, 2016

Distortion Critiques Combined

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.

Here I'm putting all five reviews together. Taking the things that I liked from each and putting them together. In a few cases I just made the change because I liked it. Mostly I just pasted notes together. A lot of people picked up on the same points, so it's helpful to see it combined. Now I'll go do a re-write.

  • Comments and Suggestions
  • Trouble points
  • repeated or important words to consider re-writing.

Street Noise

(((( Check tense throughout. Check for es, ing, ed))))((Use Italics for thought?))((Avoid Then, was, he thought, he saw, could see…. just describe what happened in order, we’ll get it))(Action/Thought/Emotion/Reaction) (Mix subjects. Is the subject “he” or is it “the rock”, this will change up the text and help with pacing and description. That way you don’t have “he said, he did” all over the place. Too many short paragraphs, add some longer descriptive ones to flesh it out and give the readers eye a break or interest.
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. 
One reader said they took the whole thing as a dream (not my intent) and that Ash felt disconnected. I think both of these result from a lack of Motivation/Reaction Units (MRU’s). (Action/Thought/Emotion/Reaction) The scene is laid out as a frame (basic elements) but it’s missing the stucko, brick, and paint. I’m looking forward to the second draft.


From 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.
Or you could say, 'A chill' or 'ice' or my spine became a stalactite... okay that my be overdoing it, I guess.  But to me coolness is usually a good thing.  Like, people are cool.  Plus coolness is kind of 'tepid'.  It doesn't seem harsh enough.

He reached for his sidearm, shook his head, upon a second thought. When he looked again, the men were gone.

Ash, alone in the corner of his favorite coffee shop, sank back into the leather bound chair.

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

How did we get from diagnosis to job description?(Jump)

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 pedestrians who hurried by, buried in their smart phones, oblivious to the world and the little clouds that floated around their shoulders.


Leaves fell, most turning shades of orange and yellow, matching perfectly the Pumpkins that were dotting porches and windows through the city the past few weeks. ((A particular tree, single leaf might draw this closer to the reader. Also, what significance to pumpkins have. The shadows rise more during this time of year?))

A commotion outside broke his train of thought...
What train of thought, you didn't show us one? (Action/Thought/Emotion/Reaction)

Everyone (who, two business men?) was stopping, turning, and staring in the same direction, a few moving toward the distraction. More detail, describe individual actions.

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 (in yellow polo), “Excuse me”. A brisk evening breeze broke past his collar. Why is this relevant?
Internal thought and emotional reacting to the cold. Then what did he do, tighten his jacket? 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. (draw this out, what’s the crowd doing, what’s he doing, paint that picture)
I dded appeared here because at first Ash seems to think the man is having a one-sided conversation.  But if he w=saw these creatures right away, then he'd never had reacted as if he thought the man was having a one-sides convo.  The issue here is, you seem to have described the way everyone else is seeing the situation but you've done it from Ash's perspective.  So either he needs to see the creatures right away or they need to gradually - or suddenly appear.
I feel there should be a more extreme reaction here from Ash.  he's seeing this wholly unbelievable thing right now and he's not freakling out at all. At least, you aren't showing us he's freaking out.  This would be a good place for some inner monologue, or maybe some swearing under his breath or something.  I wat to know how he's feeling right now.

"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 (to who?) turned to stare him directly in the eye.
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 motivations

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

Ash took a step back. (Action/Thought/Emotion/Reaction)

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

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 its torso, and its eyes were red like a hot iron.

Ash could see a large creature behind the man. The bottom half was more mist than form, as though it were made of smoke. The top half was like a man, with the head of a bull. It was charcoal with streaks of white painted across the chest.
he's either mist or smoke.

Ash could feel his palms turn cold, and he felt as though he couldn't move his legs.
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.
I don't think palms ever turn 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. 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.

The large creature stared directly at Ash, cocked his head to one side and disappeared why/where? 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. Okay, did he run for his life? Or he stood there, waiting for the man to pounce on him? There is no actual description of the fight, or sequence. Paint this picture. Show the fight.

Ash let out a cry, "Jesus!"
Jesus!" he exclaimed as he pushed his attacker away, gagging on the scent of unwashed skin and rotten teeth.

The wiry man jerked and looked around, confused.

That was all Ash needed. In 30/thirty 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." Does this need a dialog tag? Show us the car arrive like-- A police car pulled up with sirens blaring. the crowd began to disperse. A few of the spectators held cellphones p, filming the encounter. the officer said as he exited from the passenger side. 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 harshly into the back of the squad car.

Ash heard someone behind him, "Those were some moves, Marine."
avoid filtering wherever you can. instead describe WHAT he heard. like rapid footsteps approached.
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

"Airman. Uh... Thanks. No harm done." Ash noticed Filter word. his cup crushed beneath him, the ice, coffee, and cream covered the sidewalk, and his jeans. "Well... Almost no harm anyway." ((Did he carry the cup of coffee with him from the cafe? Did he drop it during the fight, expound)) ha ha.  I dunno. I'd be pretty grumpy to lose my coffee like that.

"Why don't you let me get you another… on me." Tag? Ash looked up to see (filtering) 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.
a balding man said. He shifted the pile of paper in his arms to offer his hand, covering the logo with two E’s overlapping on his yellow polo.

"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?" Tag? He didn’t step in, he was attacked. 

"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, 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.
csratch and instead say where she is
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

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 phone booth (bench, but I didn't describe it) 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.
the figures accompanying each person remained mostly indistinct with only a few recognizable as animals
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
how did he know figures accompanied everyone.  maybe they didn't.

.when did this happen? Now? or is this flashback? add the sentences to calrify it, "

"Don't worry so much." His doctor told him, "Hallucinations 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 don’t 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."

ah, so this isn't a new thing.  This has been going on a long time.  Cool.  No wonder he wasn't freaking out and shocked.  You might need to get a line or two in early on, saying something like, 'Ash had learned long ago to stifle his reactions of such creatures'... or something much more tactfully worded than my iffy skills allow.
Here, add what Ash thinks about the Doctor's statement.

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. How tall are these buildings?
If 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.
cabin in the woods.  Oh this won't end badly at all.  Ha ha

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. 
Describe it: 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. Is this his thought, or narrator to reader? It’s also in here twice. (Action/Thought/Emotion/Reaction)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."


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.
Smoke clouds his vision of
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, his forehead rushed with sweat. He sees them all running around, but all he hears is intense ringing.
do foreheads get rushed with sweat?

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

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

Others will tend to the wounded. This band of Jihadist miscreants found upgraded weapons; Russian no doubt.
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.
hmm.  i liked it better when the enemy was unnamed.  I strongly feel that unless you are writing a piece about a particular war, leave naming the enemy out of it.  I feel this is unnecessary and encourages hate and spreads fear. As far as I can see, this story is about the effects of war.  Not the actual war.  If that's the case, is it necessary to name the enemy?

consider changing as i think you mean run but you might mean shoot
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” you have too many sentences starting the same and too many with the same subject. reword for reader intrest so it doesnt feel like a list of actions. see how every sentence here starts with a pronoun? that's an indication that this section lacks show. change some of these up to add the show. pronouns by there nature are all tell. you are telling us what happens not showing us. this is show--two men clutch missles launchers agianst their chests as they scan the camp. a jeep and crumbled mountainside hide the rest of the attackers. bullets rip through the air. gunsmoke hands thick, clouding his vision and burning his throat.

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.
this sentence doesn't make sense to me

Through the scope, he can see about 10 of them. (Is it ten or not?) 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.
DESCRIBE how that looks and feels to him
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 armed men/ assailiants 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.
I get he shoots him but SHOW us
I also get what you meant know about the seats being occupied so he knows where to aim but it was really obscure as worded consder a small rewrite therer for clarity

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, 3:00 am.

He rolled over and went back to sleep.

((Why am I turning the page))
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!
This is a great start.  From here it could go anywhere.  Will he lose the plot completely and start believing in his monsters?  Or will the monsters turn out to be real? Or maybe I'm on the complete wrong track and it will be a great surprise.  

By Darrell Wolfe

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


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