Jesus Christ, this is impressive. You've got well over 200 pages, and if they're all of the same quality as the "Pregame greeting" section, that's a lot of really good work. Kudos! It takes a lot of hard work to finish a novel.
I've read the "Pregame greeting" section, and your writing is excellent so far. Your sentence structure and dialogue flows very nicely, and I only saw a couple typos. You established your setting and characters quickly and efficiently, including plenty of intriguing hints about the world, without overwhelming the reader. What I've read so far is certainly a strong opening.
I can't give a much more detailed analysis on your plot and characters until I've read the whole thing, and that will take... uh, a while, I'm not sure exactly how long. But I do intend to come back and give some more detailed feedback once I have. Is there anything specific I should be looking out for while I'm reading?
Two quick questions:
1) From now on, do you want me to send you my chapter notes whenever they're done, or would you rather I wait until I finish the entire book?
2) If so, do you want me to post chapter notes in this thread, or PM them to you?
-I like the theme of your chapter titles.
-You need to do a readthrough for spellling/grammar, or use an online tool that does one for you. It’s not as bad as it might be, but there are enough mistakes to be noticed.
-Paragraphs should generally be indented. Not a big deal, but it makes it a little easier to read.
-You start the story with “he”. I recommend using “Alexandrian” instead.
-In Sipps coalition, should Coalition be capitalized? I’m unsure of the grammar rules here.
-Commas after dialogue should be within the quotations, not outside of them. Any time you start a bit of dialogue, it should be capitalized.
-“Teeth that slouched upon one another like drunken old men” is a great bit of imagery.
-The colon on your second page should probably be a semicolon. I’m going to stop mentioning grammer/spelling stuff now, because there are online tools and resources you can use for that.
-I think you’re overusing colons, they’re good for effect, but lose impact when you use them too much. See if you can replace a few with periods.
-Huh, you use aliteration a lot. Interesting. It’s a distinctive style.
-You use the word “wenches” in an odd context, did you mean “wretches”?
-You use a few obscure words. That’s fine, just bear in mind that encountering a new word can break reader immersion. I’d keep them for description, not emotionally tense scenes.
-I like the alliteration, but make sure you’re not forcing alliteration just for its own sake. There’s a couple places where I think more basic wording would be clearer.
-Soulwax? Intriguing. You're doing a good job introducing worldbuilding elements.
-The witch’s dying scene is quite interesting and grabs the reader’s attention. Well done.
-Generally it’s a bad idea to have your first narrator die after one chapter, but I think you pulled it off pretty well.
A strong start! You’ve clearly established the tone of your world and setting. You establish and hint at worldbuilding elements without overwhelming or underexplaining. It’s action-packed and well-paced, but it’s clear you’re not just starting with a battle for the sake of starting with a battle. Most importantly, you quickly interest the reader in the world and characters, which is the most important part of an opening.
I don't have much else to say about the plot and characters yet, because this is just the first section.
Answers to questions:
1) It'd be better for me to have each chapter individually as it means I can implement feedback a little at a time.
2) Stick it here. Primarily for the purpose it shows people this thread is still active, which may insentivise them to read it.
Oh and also, thanks for the review, here's my responses/me saying 'oh yes I see that mistake and shall go rectify it'.
Again, thank you for giving this a read and for the detailed (and sagely) advice, I can't wait to hear what else you have to say!!
OPENING MOVE, TURN ONE (Aithne)
-Best to name your characters on the sooner side, I’d use his name instead of “the man”.
-“Inside” in the second paragraph could use a comma after it
-“A girl” might go better before “sat atop a pile of cushions”.
-The princess wears a candle on her head? Cool worldbuilding detail.
-There’s a couple places where you tell people’s intentions rather than show them. This is okay as long as you don’t do it too often.
-Would you be willing to make a copy of this document that allows viewers to be in suggesting mode? There’s a number of places where I have some specific suggestions about sentence structure.
-Where possible, try to use names rather than descriptors like “the woman”. It helps the reader keep track of who’s speaking.
-Aithne seems well characterized as idealistic, young, somewhat over her head in terms of political intrigue, but with a commanding presence of her own. If that’s not the first impression you’re trying to give, let me know.
-I like the connection between Alexandrian’s death in the first chapter and the politics in this one. Pulls the reader in.
-You seem to be slowly building the reader's interest in celestial bodies like the sun and moon. I'm intrigued.
Been wrapped up in Christmas stuff and thus have been a bit busy recently. I'm back now though. First and foremost, thanks for reading the first proper chapter, I am greatly appreciative of your feed back!
-Since this is a simple sentence after a cadre of complex ones, I might keep the sentence as one clause as 'breathing room' before the politics begin.
-Everyone seems to like that. It's actually inspired by an old pagan tradition.
-Noted. Could you tell me if this becomes too common? If so I'll go through and fix it, but because certain people's motivations are still not revealed in this chapter I wanted the reader to have some grasp of what was going on.
-There's one in your private messages now. I'll only change stuff on the official document though. If anybody else would like something similar let me know, I'll likely have each person have their own copy so I can see where comments are coming from directly.
-Fixed. The woman is now Bretunese. Eablo is also named at the start and end of the chapter, though I don't want to do this too much because he is meant to be a mysterious individual.
-Exactly what I was going for. Keep an eye out for the amount of pillows piled beneath her as the plot progresses. It might be a hint to how her ideology has been tainted.
-Also thanks! There's a bunch of foreshadowing and stuff through animal and celestial imagery so if you're into that stuff you'll probably like the story.
Again! Thanks for the review Gryphon!
I've made my nitpicky notes on the document you sent me, so I'll just post the plot notes here.
Quick note on the edits made to the document: I'm being very nitpicky here, and most of what I recommend is up to interpretation. If you don't like a suggestion, don't use it.
I don't have a ton to say, since this is obviously a worldbuilding-and-foreshadowing chapter. I like the worldbuilding details you have, and you presented them particularly well. A talkative dwarf who irritates the section's narrator is a great way to communicate worldbuilding details without being annoying about it. I got a firm feel of the setting where this is taking place.
I definintely think you're going to need a reference sheet in the back, though. You've got a lot going on, and it's difficult for a first-time reader to keep up.
Darnun comes across as reserved and crafty. If that's not the impression you were going for, let me know.
Also, if you have any specific questions, feel free to ask.
TURN FOUR (Gawn)
Once again, nitpicky notes are on the doc.
-I like the use of "lyrd". It's a good way to communicate a fantasy concept with a twist using concepts familiar to readers.
-Gawn comes across as earnest, accepting, and submissive. If that's not the impression you wanted, let me know.
-I like how last chaapter showed powerful tyflings and this one shows a weak and restricted one. It's a nice contrast.
-Once again, these beginning chapters are for worldbuilding and character establishment, and you're doing an excellent job of both. I don't have a ton to analyze, as this is just the beginning.
Just a quick note, I am actively still reading this stuff and implementing the feedback (especially that on plot and the more grammar related issues). If you look at the original document you can find over 400 grammar corrections! I'll reply properly (and likely do another update log) once I've worked my way through everyone's suggestions for the first ten or so chapters!
Turns four - eight
As usual, more detailed comments are on the google doc.
The number of different perspectives you have on this one town is nice, it gives the reader a much more in-depth sense of the larger alliances and politics in the war.
Your writing style has a very poetic and flowing feel to it. This is neither right nor wrong, but there are going to be some people who think it’s bad when it’s really just not for everyone. When you do attempt to get this accepted for publication by an editor, make sure you find one who likes and wants to work with your personal style, rather than one who thinks it needs to be changed.
Icarus comes across as young, but intelligent, crafty, and ambitious. I don’t get the sense he’s interested in large-scale events right now, just his own situation. If this wasn’t the impression you were going for, let me know.
Oskar comes across as earnest, idealistic, naive, in love (obviously), and holding a somewhat simplistic view of the world. If that’s not the impression you were going for, let me know.
This isn’t something you could do until this is near publication, but it would be cool to have each chapter begin with a mini-map showing where the events are taking place. It could help orient the reader.
Once again, I’d like to congratulate you on linking all your POVs together. Stories with lots of POVs often feel disjointed and seperate, but your constant referencing of events, even in POVs that take place across the world from each other, is a great way to keep the reader constantly thinking about the other events that are going on.
Your seconds Aithne chapter is doing a good job of developing her character further, with dialogue and character details rather than description or musings. Kudos.
I really like how this starts off looking like a traditional fantasy setting, and then the moon starts blinking and the tyflings have guns (yikes). It’s original, and should keep those who have read similar stuff interested.
I like the narrative implications of Darnun’s plan. Obviously it’s common for a third party to play sides off against each other, but the way in which it’s being done here is original and interesting.
I also like the narrative parallel’s between Aithne’s second chapter and Darnun’s second chapter. While Aithne plans to play the forces of frost off against each other, Darnun and the tyflings are doing to exact same thing on a larger scale to everyone.
Turns nine - fourteen:
Gawn’s chapter is a good way to mount the tension. You establish Oskar and Gawn’s characters, foreshadow whatever it is you’re trying to foreshadow with the red harlequins, and generally give a strong impession that this is the calm before the storm.
Charnn comes across as having anger issues, but being very matter-of-fact about everything, and having little internal personal direction. If that’s not the impression you wanted, let me know.
Is there going to be an explanation for Aithne’s prophetic dream? If it’s caused by her fire powers, I guess that makes sense.
Hard for me to comment on your foreshadowing with the dream, since I haven’t read any of the stuff you’re foreshadowing yet. I’ll probably have more to say on that later. But it’s clear that Aithne will eventually be unleashing the dragons.
Have you got any specific questions for me about my impressions on the plot? At this point in the work, I’m having trouble coming up with things to say, due to not knowing the direction the plot will be going in. If you've got anything specific you're looking for feedback on, I could help with that.
Turns fifteen to twenty two:
As always, nitpicky notes are on the doc.
Ravuu comes across as earnest, slightly lost, and making a genuine effort. If that’s not the impression you were going for, let me know.
I don’t trust Aitner, but he’s fun to read. Also, his name makes him sound like he’s royalty.
You’re doing a really good job connecting all your POVs together, and you’re not rushing to do it either, which makes the payoff better.
With the adventurer’s league, as well as a number of other things, you’ve done an excellent job foreshadowing elements many chapters in advance of their appearance. This is especially important in a work of this length and complexity, and you’re doing a good job with it.
Not sure why, but I really liked turn Eighteen, with the adventurer’s league and Darnun. I thought you paced it very well, the writing was good (I mean, even better than usual) and though it was set apart from many of the other events, it still felt connected to the larger plot.
The fact that Ravuu’s chapter’s are called “the queen of fire’s sevant” rather than his name is intriguing, I’ll be interested to learn the reason behind that.
You did a good job introducing the queen to the audience.
The section covering prince Clover’s funeral is very well done. It shows his legacy very neatly, while also showing the queen’s personality, and the general culture of the Septarki.
From chapter eighteen on, I’ve been appreciating the writing more. Not sure exactly what changed, but it’s good.
You're doing a great job with Icarus's characterization.
(For those not on discord I'm still working on this and have made over 500 additional grammar and spelling corrections! Go Gryphon for helping me out, as well as other peeps who will be credited in due course).
Turn twenty five or so is when the real story begins and all the actual foreshadowing pays off. Now that characters and motives are established the actual plot can start, as a self critic I feel this also tends to be where my writing is best. Admittedly begginings are not my forte, which is why (as Mizal put it) 'it feels like you're thrown in there'. However personally I enjoyed writing chapter 25+ the most and I think that shows.
Turns twenty three to thirty two:
Notes on the doc.
I think the spider battle could have been a little more neatly tied together and better paced. As it was, the encounter seemed kind of random. I recommend rather than Gawn simply waking up in a spider’s nest, and then not actually meeting any spiders until later, they both arrive at the spider’s nest while awake, and don’t immediately realize it, then the spider arrives (or they have to sneak away or something). The spiders also went down a alot easier than I thought they would after all the buildup, if you have just one spider that they defeat together and with more effort, that might make it seem more formidable. Alternatively, splitting the encounter up over more than one chapter could help with the pacing.
If you want to make the scene in the destruction of Kruch’s tower more impactful, I recommend picking one character and sticking to their viewpoint, possibly with them dying at the end of the scene. That will engage the reader more. NOTE: You did this well with Qa in the following chapter.
I’ve said this before, but you totally need a reference chapter in the back of this.
Interesting to finally see the Amalgimite. I’m curious to see where this plot line goes. Is the similarity in Gwyn and Gawn’s names deliberate or a coincidence?
You’re also doing a good job balancing different plotlines well. You’ve got large-scale war based plotlines with Aithne and Qa, as well as more personal ones with Darnun/the adventurer’s league and Gawn/Oskar/Icarus.
Turns Thirty Tree to Forty Seven
Go easy on the prophetic/symbollic dreams. Too many of them, and the reader starts to lose interest in them. If you want these dreams to remain mysterious and significant, they should be less common, or occur especially during unnatural unconsciousness (like when a character’s been knocked out). Also, there should be some pattern behind each of the characters having these dreams, completely ordinary people shouldn’t be having magical dreams.
You did a good job with Darnun’s flashback sequences, flashback sequences can be hard to do well. I'm a little confused on how she got that note from her history teacher, though.
I recommend at several key points throughout the book, you make a list of what you want the reader to understand by reaching that point, and ask your beta readers to tell you whether or not they picked that up. There are several points where I'm confused about what's going on, but I can't tell whether or not that confusion is intentional. My recommendation here is that when the confusion is deliberate, you have characters in the story show their confusion, that clues the reader in to the fact that they aren't missing anything.
Referring specifically to the Ferz's turns feels a little out of place since no other players have their turns labeled. I don't know why you did this yet, so I can't say if it's a good thing or not. If you can afford to do so without spoiling your plot, I recommend labeling all turns with the "player" behind it.
Why send a shapeshifter to kill the queen when you could send a shapeshifter to impersonate the queen?
I recommend putting the Public Information about spiral imagery earlier in the work. All the foreshadowing surrounding the snail has happened in the last few chapters (at least, I think), and it'll have a greater impact if you spread out the clues further back.
I’d like to give you an update on my plans for reading this: I’m going to finish this first readthrough focusing mainly on tone, grammar, and character/plot development. Once I’ve read through this once, I’ll be familiar enough with the plot to do a second readthrough focusing instead on economy of storytelling. You have a lot of characters, plot elements, and scenes, that I have no way of knowing the significance of until I finish. On the second readthrough, I’ll be able to give much more specific feedback on how well the plot elements are fulfilling their role.
I won't be able to read this for the next few days since I'll be away.
Turns forty eight to sixty three;
Nitpicky notes in the doc.
I have a really tough time buying that the spider cult would attack Hum just to get back at Gawn. If this event is necessary, you could foreshadow it by showing that the dead spider was a really special spider in some way, or making it clear that the spider cults are batshit insane. Their motivation just feels a little weak at the moment. Alternatively, you could have Icarus be deliberately riling them up to get them to make an attack they wouldn’t normally consider. Alternatively you could make the offense committed by Gawn and Oskar be much more extreme. Either way, right now, the response seems extremely disproportionate given what we know of the spider tribes.
You’re doing a good job with Tyarko’s scenes. It might be interesting if we saw more of him before his trechary is revealed.
The biggest problem with this story so far is that in many situations, I have no idea what’s going on. As the author, you understand things, but as the reader, it’s tougher than it seems to pick up on all the intricate details. That said, a certain amount of mystery is good. I recommend that you have your beta readers go through GSR and point out all the points where they feel like they’re missing something. If it’s deliberate, you can ignore it, if you mean this scene to be clear, then you should do something to illuminate it. I recommend making use of the Publically Availiable Information to explain things such as soulwax and the Shepherd religion earlier in the work.
You might want to make the matriarchical nature of the children of the Shepherd more obvious sooner in the book.
There seems to be a lot of transformation going on. Ravuu for sure, almost certainly Icarus, and I'm suspicious about Julian. Is this a deliberate theme of yours?
The spider-Gawn arc seems to really grate people. Here's how I might change it:
I'm interested in how else I could improve this part of the narrative.
Honestly with the Matriarch thing I was really trying to do a show don't tell thing, with all the authority figures being women and comments like 'I knew we should've used a girl for this' ect. Is there anything else beside a PBI section I could do to make this more obvious?
When I started writing GSR I wrote down the three themes I wanted to explore: Motherhood (and the removal of it), justification of racism (and unjustified racism) and finally how metamorphosis makes people different. Every male main character in the book will be changed physically in some capacity, even Oskar though I'm not sure if you've got to that yet. This is mainly because I like body horror, while the women suffer the more psychological side of things. Not sure why this is, guess it's just how I personally feel people can relate to suffering gender wise. Anyway this is a long post already, time to go read contest entries (nearly done now).
All three of those would help (particularly #1 and #3), but the main confusion I have is the brutality the spiders have towards the citizens of Hum, despite knowing that only two strangers were actually involved in the incident. It would make more sense to me if the spiders simply sent the city into chaos as they looked for Gawn, and then most of the actual death was caused by the Septarki forces.
I like the show don't tell thing, and you could probably easily do that just by throwing in an extra line or two in Gawn's first chapter or so. It's not a major problem.
Oskar's been severely injured, though I'm not sure if that's what you mean. Idk if you're right about the gender thing, but I'm a male who is so far finding the physical changes more intriguing, so there you go. I'll be interested to see if any characters manage to remain themselves despite the changes. I've definitely picked up on the motherhood thing, particularly with Darnun, and the Queen. I'll be curious to see how the racism theme plays out later in the work, I've certainly noticed the groundwork particularly with the tyflings, but I have the feeling there's a lot more to see there.
Anyways, good stuff so far.
Turns sixty four to eighty four
How much time has passed over the course of this story? I would guess a couple weeks, but I don’t have any dates to go off. Some quick references to the amount of time passed might help orient the reader.
Aithne seems much more confident and strong in this chapter, but I’m not really sure what changed to make her this way and it feels a little abrupt. You may want to make this transition happen a little more slowly or include a few scenes where Aithne can demonstrate the gradual progression of the change.
Briar’s confiding in Icarus seems odd. Why should she trust him? I like the scene, but it really doesn’t make much sense in context. A bit more buildup would make this more believable. This scene would also make more sense if they were in some sort of trap or physical danger while it’s happening, as it would explain why they’re desperate enough to talk. As it is, she’s not forced to spend time in his company.
You’re doing a good job with Charnn’s character.
Bantor’s first chapter is quite effective due to the buildup his character has had being seen from other perspectives.
There are a number of times where characters make a correct guess, but it seems like the shouldn’t have been able to deduce that based on the information they have available. If other people also agree this is a problem, you can fix it by having them not seriously consider the guess, seriously consider other incorrect guesses too, have some guesses be right but many be wrong, or providing the characters with the information they would need to make the deduction.
I have a complete lack of sense of direction with this. It would be easier if the map didn’t require five minutes of loading to scroll up to (lol), but many readers are going to ignore the map anyways, so you may want to include a chapter early on where some characters briefly discuss the important geography in a short conversation. If you decide to do this, I recommend doing it in one of the chapters where Gawn and Oskar are just setting out; Oskar is familiar with the area, and it makes sense that Gawn would be curious about its geography.
Turns eighty five to ninety four:
(Sorry for the delay in getting this done)
I like the gift swap thing between Gawn and Oskar, it’s a nice character moment. The whole chapter with Oskar waking up was done well.
You’re also doing a good job with Darnun’s flashback sequence. The sequence with her cooking does a a great job of showing the comparison between her new vs old life, and her transition, as does the contrast of the lighter elements between her and Iago with the weightyness of the subjects being discussed.
The lore behind the secret city is interesting. Would it be at all possible to set up this information in a a publically availiable information bit earlier on? Not a big deal if no, but it might make it more effective.
Turns 95 to 106:
I like the way you’ve handled Gawn’s faith so far. She has a complex interaction with it, being herself a tyfling, but I’ve flet that her reactions and opinions are very logical and believable given the environment she was raised in. To be more questioning and rebellious would seem unrealistic, to be less, equally so, you’re walking the line well.
If the fortune teller is just a regulr dude and not a recurring character, I think he’d be a lot more freaked out to see someone as important as Gawn walking into his tent (could also be funny). As it is, he’s keeping an exeptionally cool head.
The snail’s speech seems a little inconsistent, but that might just be me.
You might want to give some thought to telling the stories in larger chunks, like having many or the the Gawn/Oskar chapters all happen in succession, then the Darnun/Adventurer’s League ones or something. I like the short chapters, but having all the plots running in parallel does make the story more difficult to follow. See if your test readers are having any difficulty following.
I see what you’re trying to do with Aithne, and it’s a good arc, but I don’t think you’ve quite made the transition apparent. On a second re-read I might have more notes for how you can help the pacing with this.
Bantor’s backstory is interesting, and I like that you’re not overstating or rushing it.
You need to start foreshadowing Oskar’s changing feelings towards Gawn earlier. As it is, it seems sudden, but it shouldn’t be too hard to fix.
Turns 107 to 120:
Why doesn’t Qa just surrender and walk into the forces of flame’s camp? If she asks to speak with Aithne or Briar, they could probably set up some sort of communication.
Why are Gawn and Oskar so stressed upon seeing the League? I could be misremembering this, but I thought the league and shepherdites were on good terms with each other as far as they know.
Icarus and Qa seem a little more casual in their reunion with each other than I would expect, considering how much they’ve been thinking about each other and the fact that she just stabbed him. This scene might be more effective if it were forcibly rushed, such as with the battle preventing them from speaking so clearly.
Charnn’s self-reflection seems out of place. It might be more powerful for him to die without coming to any firm conclusions about why he’s done what he’s done.
EDIT: Nuts, commented on wrong chain. Oh well.
Turns 121 to Epilogue:
Gawn’s pleasure at using her power might be more effective if she’s been pushing it aside until now, perhaps out of fear or guilt for what she did to Oskar. You can couple her decision to use it against the League with her loss of faith, making for a more significant character transition.
If the league knows Bantor is still alive, wouldn’t it be in his advantage to reveal himself to them so he can gain access to their resources to support his cause?
Genuinely did not expect Bantor to die. One thing I will say is the characters you’ve killed (or semi-killed) have not been the ones whom I was expecting to die, and I can usually predict these things.
I suppose if you HAD to kill Bantor, you did a good job of it. I’d recommend cutting down on the dialogue somewhat, death scenes tend to be more effective when they’re shorter.
I have absolutely no idea what’s going on in the epilogue with Cyro. If that’s your intention, it’s fine.
Now that I'm finished, I'll be making a second post in a bit that has more detailed feedback on the work as a whole.
I went ahead and read through the intro, and "turn one." It looks pretty interesting so far. I am hooked, so instead of reading through the first chapter and reviewing that I'll see if I can't go through the whole thing. I do have a few comments from my first read through though. “A spark in the dark always finds the fire”, Alexandria said to himself. “And that includes me.”
I believe his name is Alexandrian?
And yet, despite all its strength and magnificence, the sun had been denied access to the proceedings.
I love this sentence. Fantastic imagery, and think it highlights that meeting quite nicely.
“I will not use the dragons upon the Fathrione troops. I want the people we defeat to have love for me in their hearts, the flames, those... things spit will burn away any chance that has of happening,”
Maybe I am reading this one wrong, but I think that the word "spit" here is meant to be a noun possessed by the word "things." If that is correct, then make sure to add an apostrophe after the s to indicate possession properly.
Overall this looks like a really fun read, and I hope this doesn't get lost in the duels and contest things going on.
First I'm just putting it out there and seeing what people think. Obviously I've gone through and edited around four times but I can bet somebody, somewhere, will have some critique that's worth implementing. Plus I have people I know in real life looking at it now, and I can pressure them into reading it without feeling bad.
The next steps follow thus:
-Wait for feedback
-Implement feedback, while working on other projects and trying to get a commendation over on this site everyday
-Im going down the publishing route because self-publishing seems far more difficult (if with the potential to be more profitable).
-Advertise the shit out of it. I have a few ideas of how to do this, but one of them is publishing 5E homebrew content related to the world since the stuff I've published in the past has been popular.
-Become rich and retire. Jokes aside the real plan from then is to continue my work on book 2 electric boogaloo.
CYS is like a holy grail of pure water in a river of shit.
I pressure everyone I know into reading my stuff: I'm not as intimidating in real life than I clearly am on here so it dosen't tend to work.
Update log (GSR V1.1):
Do you like grammatical editing?
Do you like spelling corrections?
Do you like punctuation being correct?
Well boy do I have news for you!
GSR now has a ton of formatting, SPAG and general improvements (including fixing all those pesky dialogue issues!).
here's a list of all the changes I've made, which can be seen in the document placed in the original post. Or, if you're too lazy to scroll up, here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1rA9lP6yIxn7er5a7yhL3ksns2w-7SivrO3V5HwDVZvc
Whats next for GSR? Well, a lot of things! My next main goal is to remove ALL SPAG errors from the text, but only doing that would be boring. I'm working on several GSR-tangential short stories before I move on to the next novel (which is in the plotting stage right now). Obviously I'm still looking for plot based-criticism and critique, so get on that if you'd like. Anything you guys give me will be way better than the 'people' over on Reddit.
Anyway, I'm going to go back to doing reviews, writing and general procrastination. Enjoy.
Before I start tearing into the nitty-gritties of every specific detail in here, I would like to state unequivocally that this is an incredible piece of work, clearly representing a LOT of effort and ingenuity, and you deserve a lot of praise for finishing an undertaking of this volume. I’m not going to spend too much time focusing on the positives, since you’re looking for critical feedback, so I wanted to state up-front how impressed I am. Round of applause for Green!
Every now and then I’ll watch a movie or a tv show and think “This would be a good first draft, but it needed several more rounds of editing before being filmed.” I’d say that’s the stage this book is at right now. Usually that reaction is a negative since I’m having it towards works that have already been published, but in this case, it’s a pure positive: This book is exactly where you want it to be. You’ve dumped a vast deposit of raw materials on the table, and now it’s time to vigorously cut and polish and edit until everything is smooth. Which is going to be tough and long, because there’s just so much written here, but at this stage, all you need to do is keep throwing time and energy at this until you’re satisfied.
1) I’ve done my best to separate my personal preferences from my analysis of your writing, but I’m just one person. If something I’m saying doesn’t match up with the feedback you’re getting from others, just ignore it.
2) You’re british, I’m american. Things that seem weird or wrong to me might just be cultural differences in phrasing.
First I’m going to give you some general feedback on your overall writing style and what I recommend doing about it. Then I’ll get into more work-specific details such as plot and characters.
1) Clarity of plot, world, and setting. There are many places in this book where I was confused or thrown off, but couldn’t tell if this was deliberate, if it was because I personally was unfamiliar with it, or because the writing was genuinely unclear. The last thing you want is readers to be confused, so you’ll want to ensure that readers always understand exactly what they need to at any given time.
I think this is especially true of explaining how magic works in your world. For example, heading into the final chapters, I still wasn’t really sure how soulwax worked.
How to fix it: The solution to this is the same as the solution to my next point, so I just put them both there. Another solution could be to include reference material in the back of your work.
2) Distracting choices of phrasing. There were also a number of places where I disliked the phrasing or dialogue you used, but couldn’t tell if this was a matter of personal preference or not. On my read through, I was trying only to make comments I thought would be true for all readers, not just me. If you want, I can do a more thorough sentence structure edit of this, but as I won’t be able to separate my personal preferences from objective value, you’ll have to get other people’s opinions too in order to parse out which edits are good and which ones aren’t.
How to fix it: Get 5+ brand new readers in your target audience to read as thoroughly as me, and ask them to do the following things:
A) Circle words they don’t know
B) Make a note when any alliterative or poetic phrasing becomes distracting
C) Make a note in the margin every time they feel confused or lost about the plot/details
If all your readers agree that a certain line is distracting, re-word it. If all your readers seem to be confused about the same plot point or magical element, work it in earlier.
3) Lack of reader tension. The single biggest problem with this book is that the writing isn’t “grippy”—while reading it I did not feel much anticipation and pressure to find out what was happening next. I think this is mainly due to two things: Sentence structure, and character depth, which I talk more about in a moment.
How to fix it: Primarily, get a professional editor as soon as you can. I can offer some general tips (or specific ones, if you ask me to do that thorough sentence structure read through) on improving this, but the most major aspect of “grippy” writing comes down to the nuance of sentence structure, and a professional will be able to speak to that on a much more complex level than me. This is just one of those things where lots of editing and lots of practice is the best way to fix it.
4) Depth of characters. I think this is more a matter of execution than any problem with your actual characters. The characters you have are complex and varied, there’s just so many of them. Readers can only care about so many people at once, and with such a wide array, you’re prevented from bringing the readers too deep into any one character. Readers caring about specific characters is the number one most important thing for keeping readers interested, and for keeping the book in their heads after they’ve put it down.
How to fix it: There’s a couple different approaches you can take here. These are the possibilities I can think of, you’ll have to decide what you think is best for your story.
A) Limit the number of viewpoint characters. This will reduce the scope of your story, but it will make the cast you have more manageable and complex. If you decide to do this; I recommend selecting the characters whose arcs you think will be the most emotionally impactful, and keeping them, then filling in with characters who physically need to be there to tell the story. I can also offer more specific suggestions if you choose to do this.
B) Longer chapters/viewpoint sections. This will let you go deeper into characters without sacrificing much in terms of scale.
C) Sticking closer to the perspective of the viewpoint character. You sacrifice some flexibility in your narration if you do this, but it could help the reader get inside the character’s heads more.
D) Add/highlight more non-essential recurring character-building details. This risks lengthening your story, but could be worth it. Come up with a couple random details about each character (Gawn’s favorite color is orange, Qa always gets stuck with unbalanced weapons, Darnun snores, etc.) and see if you can work them as a through-line for that character’s scenes and relationships. It’s a bit of a shortcut for when you don’t have the space to toss in more beefy character-building scenes, which I recommend against, since this is already a very long book.
E) Add more humor. Humor has a high returns-rate for reader engagement, if you can work it out in a way that fits the tone of your work.
F) I’ll be offering more scene-specific and character-specific recommendations on the re-read.
5) Out-of-place dialogue. One thing that seemed pretty consistent to me as a low-level negative was that characters seem to over speak, as in, they say more in dialogue than I would reasonably expect them to say at the time, both in terms of volume and how explicit they were in their views. This isn’t a major problem, and it might just be something that only bothers me personally. It falls under the general umbrella of show-don’t-tell. If you want, when I do a second read I can go through and look for places to cut down on over speaking, and make the dialogue seem more natural and fluid, but I won’t do this unless you want me to since it may well just be a stylistic choice that other people like. I’d ask other people if the dialogue also sometimes seemed out of place to them.
How to fix it: No trick here, just editing. Read through your dialogue and make sure it seems realistic given the context. Ask your beta readers to point out any time the dialogue seems weird to them. Again, I can pay more attention to specifically this on a re-read if you want.
6) Difficulties with marketing. This is less of a problem, and more of a “heads-up”. Since you’re an unknown author working on a series and not a stand-alone, you’re going to have a very tough time selling this to a publisher (assuming that’s what your end goal is). If you haven’t already, I recommend you start looking into the details of the book market.
Next, I’ve got a few questions for you that will tailor how I offer more specific feedback on the details of your plot and character arcs:
1) Who is your target audience?
2) Since this is obviously a series, to what extent do you have future works planned out in detail, and how many will there be?
3) Do you have the complex mechanics of the magic for this world worked out, and if so, do you plan to reveal this in later works? If the answer is yes, I strongly recommend explaining the magic in this work, so that the readers can understand what’s going on. For example, I never really fully understood how the amalgamates' power worked with two people, and what its secondary power was.
4) How do you want readers to feel while they’re reading this? How do you want them to feel after finishing it?
5) If you could give me a two-sentence summary of what emotional impact you were going for with each character arc, that would be helpful, and I can give more specific advice on how to achieve what you’re going for. Here’s what my impression of each of them was:
Aithne- We’ve got a somewhat naive and idealistic young princess in a brutal world instigating a brutal war, becoming gradually more confident, and more destructive. Great. I think here you just need to work on the pacing of her arc, establish her original personality more firmly earlier on, and show the change as being more gradual, through her words and actions rather than description. You’ve got a strong first-draft arc here, it just needs editing and polish.
Darnun- Obvious themes of motherhood here, which I think you handled well. Her end goal, when revealed, is in character. Her arc obviously isn’t over, so I don't have a firm analysis on this one yet.
Gawn- Gawn’s loss of faith is important, and overall well-handled. I think if you link her loss of faith with her reluctance to use her Lialite powers/later acceptance of those powers, you can get a more cohesive arc. Oskar’s faith and Oskar’s growing unease with Gawn can be used as a contrast here.
Icarus- I’m not completely sure what you were trying to do here, what was the drive behind Icarus’s arc?
Oskar- Gotta say, I wasn’t expecting him to survive, but I’m glad he did, there are a lot of interesting directions he could go in. You’ve already got a nice arc for him with his love for and growing unease with Gawn (which I expect to see continued in future installments), all you really need to do is polish the pacing a little.
Charnn- I think you’ve got the materials for something quite interesting here, but didn’t quite pull it off. Charnn seems incredibly lost. He’s latched on to the forces of flame, and seems to want to help people, but also has a streak of cruelty. I recommend that in this arc you focus on Charnn’s inability to determine what the best course of action is, between following Aithne, having fun as a titan, and helping kids. If you have his death end with him still not sure what he’s doing, and still trying to work out the best course of action, it may be more impactful.
The captain- Doesn’t get enough chapters for me to really get a sense of him, though I do think his presence here is important and works well. Anything you were specifically trying to do with him?
Monika- Monika was interesting, the sharp contrast between her compassion towards some, such as Julien, and her utter derision for Darnun works well. You could get a decent arc out of her this way, but as things stand, she doesn’t have enough chapters to support it, and you may want to focus on more plot-important characters. She serves her narrative role well.
Julien- Assuming Julien is the snail, I’m intrigued to see where this goes. I think you did a good job setting up his personality in the early chapters.
Briar- Briar is a tragedy about someone torn between wanting to protect and defend a friend who is changing, and missing a simple life that was stolen from her. I thought you did a good job with her, working her more directly into Aithne’s early chapters might help with Aithne’s arc.
Qa- There are plenty of parallels with Qa and Briar, which overall worked well. Qa’s personal desire to see Icarus again works well as a motivator, but I think the groundwork needs to be laid more firmly in the chapters when they’re onscreen together in the beginning for the payoff to work. I didn’t realize Qa and Icarus were especially close until they directly told me.
Bantor- Bantor is fun. He was fun in his early scenes, and got more fun as the work went on. I think you did an excellent job with him. His death obviously serves to further Darnun’s arc (and does so effectively), but it’s too bad, since he was a very flexible character who could have gone in a number of different directions. Overall, I think you utilized his character very well. The one thing I would ask here is why he’s so loyal to Darnun specifically, I never quite figured that out.
Karkannaz- She sneaks up on you, she doesn’t have a detailed arc like some other charaters, but her presence became more important later in the work. I’m curious to see where her character is going.
Arvin- Arvin is also fun, and his friendship with Grimbsy is fun. Arvin’s perspective on the snail sail frames the development in a much more intriguing way than focusing on Karlos or the snail’s perspective would have. I’m curious to see where this storyline goes in the future.
6) Could you update me on how many other editors you have working on this and at what point they’re at in the review/what they’re focusing on? This would help me figure out what to focus on. It would also be helpful to have a general update of where you are in the process.
7) When you have a current/updated version of GSR you’re ready to share again for editing, send me another suggest-able link and I’ll do another round.
8) Finally, it would be extremely helpful if you could ask me specific questions on what to give feedback on, like if you had specific questions about a certain character or plot point. It’s tough to give helpful and specific feedback on such a big project without some guided questions.
And finally, some more specific details:
1) I recommend adding some kind of informational glossary in the back, explaining things like the races, the basic factions, and some details about how magic works. Something like the “Ars Arcanum” if you’ve ever read a Sanderson book.
2) I recommend putting dates on some if not all the chapters so the reader can keep better track of the timeline.
3) I recommend keeping each chapter to a single point of view only.
4) You may want to cut down on the prophetic dreams, for two reasons. First, unless there’s an in-universe reason for it (of which I am not yet aware), it just seems like a shortcut. Second, even if there is an in-universe reason, it’s best in moderation as it can serve to spoil future events. Prophetic dreams are best when they’re misleading rather than accurate.
5) Aithne’s refusal to read the letter until the end is a major plot point, so I’m not sure how you can change it, but it feels really forced. Perhaps if you build up Aithne’s anger at her mother, and have her on-screen make a deliberate choice to ignore communications from her, (such as casting the letter aside), that could help. Maybe she’s received letters from her in the past that just made her angry.
6) I like what you’ve done with the League, particularly the contrast between their prior morals and current ones.
7) The conflict between Oksar and Gawn in the second part of the book needs to start being foreshadowed earlier on.
8) The relationship between Darnun and Bantor was one of the more intriguing ones, and I would have liked to see it explored in more detail while they were actually on-screen together, not just in Bantor’s reminiscences. I think with some changes to their interactions in earlier chapters, you can make this more impactful.
9) This was just the stuff I could think of off the top of my head. I'll certianly think of more later.
And finally, I’d like to end with what impressed me most about this. I’m absolutely blown away by the world building that’s gone into this. This world you’ve built feels real and fleshed out in ways that few published works can compare to. Everything is rich with history and significance, but never in a way that hampers the natural development of the current plot and characters. You provide plenty of setting-building details without distracting from the narrative. You also keep enough information hidden to retain a sense of mystery without it seeing like a cheap suspense tactic. And from what I can tell, what’s revealed in this work is only the tip of the world building iceberg. It’s very impressive.
This is a long post (sorry), so here are the general and most-important points summarized for you:
2) Once you have current version up to your satisfaction, could you send me the link to another suggest-able google doc?
3) Do you want me to do a more thorough and personal sentence-to-sentence edit as described above?
4) What are some specific questions you have about this work that I can provide more detailed feedback on?
5) Where are you and your other editors right now in the editing process?