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Critique Requested by Anthraxus (Haunted Forest)

one year ago
Commended by mizal on 4/14/2023 1:05:33 AM


@Anthraxus - I hope the tag works. I'm summoning you here because I don't want to necro Owl's thread or derail MrAce's. I'm sorry about the length - this turned out longer than expected.

You said you’d be honored to receive my critique about your haunted forest story, but the honor is mine. Your story reflected your strong writing skills and talent for weaving together an intriguing world. The more I read, the more I wanted to see how you would further mold the forest and its sorrowful history. In addition, the vivid descriptions caused me to feel I was stumbling through the forest with Yenfred and sinking under the spirits' raw anger. Combined with a lovable druid with a mysterious past, the story pulled me in and left me wanting more. 

To further enhance your work, perhaps you could consider the following suggestions. They mainly revolve around deepening perspective, strengthening character voices, and both reducing and spreading out background information.

I should note any scenes I've written aren't intended for your use, just to serve as examples. :)


Part One - Perspective.

First, to deepen the reader's connection to the story, I suggest showing more from a character’s perspective and strengthening his voice/personality. I noticed many beautiful details for the landscapes, but I felt there was little description about Yerfed's feelings and thoughts. Since he’s a protagonist, more of the story should be molded around him, and his outlook may color the information we’re given.

One way to achieve this is to reduce telling phrases, which include “he saw/felt/heard/could tell”. While useful, too many may create a wall between the reader and the character. For example, the lovely, chilling scene where Yerfed descends the valley includes him pausing as he “[heard] what he thought were . . . soft whispers” but “He heard nothing more than the wind . . . etc.” It might be adjusted to: 

. . . Something like soft whispers flitted through the air. He paused. Tilted his head and listened for a few seconds. 

Only the wind stirred in the tree branches, and below him, the head-tall grasses murmured.  

Or consider changing “he could tell that he still had a few hours until sunset” to something like:

By now, the sun’s blaze had weakened to gentle rays, brushing the tops of the trees. Just a few more hours, and it’d dip below the horizon.

Or this line: “Yerfed looked surprised and exclaimed, ‘I'm no thief!’” Consider something like: “His eyes widened.” or “His mouth fell open.”

Another way to deepen perspective is adding the character’s perception/emotional response and involvement in the event. For instance, when Yerfed encountered the gigantic tree, the highly detailed description was breathtaking. If you included his perception, it could deepen the reader’s feeling of involvement. For example, it may look like: 

He froze in his tracks and sucked in his breath.

Mother of god.

Before him loomed a monstrous oak tree, so tall that even when he stepped back and wobbled on his tiptoes, he still couldn’t see the top. Massive limbs spread wide as though to consume him, easily sixty feet or more. From the trunk, planked walkways sprouted out like carefully curated branches, forming rough levels that connected deep holes within the tree. Wooden rungs formed ladders between the levels and spiraled down to the ground. 

He shivered. 

In addition, I felt that the mysteriousness and majesty of those doors in the trunk were overlooked. I felt it should be the final sentence rather than the gigantic grasses and flowers, which seemed to take away from the impact. That detail could be added later.

Another area is when Yerfed encountered the voices, which included gorgeous, immersive details about their building fury and the “weight of ancient hatred”. I felt including more of his emotions would increase tension, as other than crying out in frustration, he didn’t seem emotionally involved and felt blank. For example, it could look something like:

First, a whisper tickled his ear. Jerking, he smacked at his face and spun around. Only empty air met his eyes.

Another sound streaked past his temple, breaking off into an echo. 

His stomach tightened. “Just the wind,” he muttered and rubbed the goosebumps on his arms. “Just the wind.” 

He began to walk faster. But the swifter his steps, the more the flowers shook until thick clouds of pollen wafted through the air . . . etc.

. . . in the fields, the cries of the voices rose. Heavy sweat ran down his face, and he clamped his hands over his ears. Louder and louder their laments grew, streaking through his head, pressing in around him until he was gasping, shaking . . . etc.

. . . Hot pain shot through his head, and his vision whitened. A loud cry broke from his mouth, and he slammed to his knees. The ground dug into his bones, the field shaking underneath the fury of screams. 

Back! He had to go back.

Taking in a shuddering breath, he clutched his ears for one more second before quickly releasing them. Gritting his teeth, he rolled over and scrabbled at the dirt, dragging himself through the field. Through his watering eyes, he glimpsed a trail of broken, downtrodden grass. 

One more area is when the story switched to Neri’s point of view. It began with him “puttering” inside the hut, so it felt disjointed when the story abruptly switched to Yerfed’s perspective outside. I suggest sticking to one perspective. If you stick with Neri’s, I suggest starting the scene with something other than sudden background information about an unknown character, which leads me to my next suggestion. 

Critique Requested by Anthraxus (Haunted Forest)

one year ago

Part Two - Scene Development.

My second main suggestion is to focus on further developing the start of each scene, so it moves faster and quickly captures interest with a hook. One way to do this is to include more foreshadowing and tension. For example, for the opening scene you added a great hook about a haunted forest and began the story close to the inciting incident. To further increase tension, maybe see where you can add some foreshadowing. For example, your line “But today he found something new [in the forest]” might be a good place to add one:   

But today, he ran into something new. 

Something that made him wish he’d never ventured in.

Another example is when Neri spoke to Yerfed of the angry spirits and potentially endangering Rag Hill, which is awesome and attention-grabbing. I felt that the monologue could have been broken up and more tension could have been added to highlight the seriousness. The start of Neri's scene could have also used a hook, which brings me to my next point.

Another way to improve a scene’s beginning is to reduce information, and be more selective of what and when you share. The story should be constantly advancing, so info dumping at opening scenes slows the pace and dilutes tension. Instead, try introducing information only when it’s relevant to the scene and/or the reader needs it. For example, at Neri’s scene, a stronger hook would arouse more interest than his history would. Maybe the reader only needs to know that he’s a druid and wise enough for Yerfed to seek him out. Details about his unknown past are less important, so they can be sprinkled through the scene later or even not at all. 

Reducing information also means allowing the reader to infer rather than spelling everything out for them. For example, when Neri’s “eyebrow” raises, don’t tell readers it’s an indication of surprise. Just leave it at that, and let them come to that conclusion. Another example is when you said Yerfed’s words faltered as Neri plucked fluff from him. That’s fine, but you can also show interruptions like: 

“Well.” His grip tightened around his cap. “Y’know the woods, north of Rag Hill? I’ve been–” 

Neri reached out and plucked some yellow fluff from his broad shoulder.


The druid’s silver eyes met his muddy brown ones. “Go on.”

OR (from Yerfed's perspective):

Yerfed raised his hand to knock at the door. 

“Come in, Yerfed of Rag Hill!” a muffled voice called from inside. “Don’t linger at the door.”

In addition, try showing some information rather than telling everything, so it feels relevant and organic. This helps the reader feel they’re discovering and piecing everything together themselves. One method involves body language and actions. For example, to show that the druid is well-respected, perhaps Yerfed’s head would be slightly bowed, or if he’s wearing a cap, he may remove it in respect. You wrote that he spoke in a reverent tone, which is another good detail. Depending on his personality, maybe he’d nervously trip over his words or try having better vocabulary. For example, here's a scene I've quickly built together.

“Come in, Yerfed of Rag Hill!” the druid called, crumbling the last of chamomile into the cauldron. “Don’t linger at the door.”

Right after he yelled, there was a soft rap at the door that broke off, as though someone was about to knock. After a moment, the door creaked open, and footsteps shuffled in. 

Neri glanced out of the corner of his eye, just enough to see a young man ducking beneath the low door. He blinked in the dim light, head swiveling as he took in the maze of dusty books and the hanging herbs. His eyes shifted to the kitchen, and upon falling on Neri, they widened. He scrambled to remove his brown cap, clutching it against his chest.  

The cauldron’s contents bubbled. The druid’s attention snapped back to stirring.

“Ah, uh - good mornin’, sir.” The man’s voice was reverent and slightly muffled. He was probably bowing.

Neri hummed.

Another method involves dialogue. For example, rather than explaining to readers why Yerfed would seek out Neri, why not have it show in their conversation? Ideally, it’d be kept brief as it’s not as important. It might look something like:

“I’ve–er.” Yerfed’s boot scuffed against the wooden floorboards. “Not sure if you ‘member me, but my mother said you–”

“I do.” The memory was burned into his mind: Yerfed, only a babe back then, flushed with fever and deathly still in his mother’s arms. It’d been the longest night of his life, sprinting through the wild, tearing the forest apart for white willow bark. “You were fortunate.”

Shaking the past off, he leaned in and deeply inhaled the mixture. A mild, sour scent burned his nostrils, and he scowled before tossing in another handful of lavender. “A day later, and the sickness would’ve claimed you.” 

For smaller background information, maybe you could sprinkle it throughout the scene. For example, you mentioned that the druid has unusual features betraying his nonhuman race (I love that) and that people seek his advice. This could be shown through something like:

As Neri bent away from the cauldron, firelight flickered on his grey skin, and the shadows elongated his narrow face. “What brings you to me, Yerfed?” Brushing soot off the front of his torn robes, he crossed his arms against his chest. “Not questions about crops, I gather?” His eyes twinkled. “Or midwifery?”

And later:

“Stay still.” Neri leaned in, and his hand patted around Yerfed’s shoulder, feeling for any leftover pollen. 

The man’s eyes flickered down to the black, claw-like nails, filed down to short points. 

And later:

“I wonder,” Neri hummed, tugging at his nest of white hair. The strands parted, revealing a long, twisted ear with a pointy tip. When the fire crackled, it flicked, and he quickly let his hair fall over his face again.

You can also try making background information feel more engaging, such as by telling it through the character’s voice. For example, the opening scene contains important, interesting history about Rag Hill, but maybe try adding colorful details to paint a clearer picture of what it’s like from Yerfed’s perspective. Specifically, “The Rag Hill of today was a boring little farming town in the middle of nowhere.” What about it is boring to Yerfed? This can be briefly shown, an example being:

The Rag Hill of today had long given up swords for pitchforks, content to grow fat with fields and stagnant villages. 

Which was why he was out here. Why would he wallow in watery beer or throw rocks at hounds like the other boys, all when he could be traversing the wilds, drinking in the forest and its secrets?

Another example is:

What did a bunch of farmers know about hauntings anyways? Had they even ventured out beyond their cottages? He’d been tromping through the trees for months, and the scariest thing he’d run into was a black bear. 

Or just add some details in general: 

Centuries had passed since the knights massacred the native elves, watering the lands with their blood. 



Overall, I felt that focusing on developing deeper perspectives, strengthening character voices, and spreading out background information would help your story. Other than that, your work contained many strong points. From evocative descriptions of the ghosts to the constant heightening of the stakes, it gave me many reasons to keep reading and rooting for your characters. I was eager to see how they’d resolve a seemingly impossible situation, as well as whether they’d find a way to appease the dead. I was also interested to see how this would shape Yerfed’s perception and development. 

I enjoyed this story, and once again, I am honored that you’d ask for my critique. I hope my suggestions were helpful, and I wish you all the best!

Critique Requested by Anthraxus (Haunted Forest)

one year ago
why are you so cool?

Critique Requested by Anthraxus (Haunted Forest)

one year ago

I burst out laughing at this, and it made my headache mostly disappear. Thanks for saving me from a night of pain!

Critique Requested by Anthraxus (Haunted Forest)

one year ago

This is some solid reviewing. Here's to hoping you start coming around here more often.

Critique Requested by Anthraxus (Haunted Forest)

one year ago

Thank you very much! It's nice to be back after so long and see what's changed.

Critique Requested by Anthraxus (Haunted Forest)

one year ago

Phenomenal critique.  Thank you so much for your time and consideration.  I had not really been considering doing much more with that story, but perhaps I will make a game of some sort out of it, once I finish my first.

I will be taking some of your notes and applying them to my current storygame, though for certain.

If you would like some points to show my appreciation, please send me a duel request and select 'rock'.

Critique Requested by Anthraxus (Haunted Forest)

one year ago

If you do ever make a game out of it, I'd look forward to it. Fantasy and semi-horror would be the perfect blend, and I'd love seeing more of that world.

Glad you found my thoughts helpful! Good luck with your project.

I've never dueled before, but I may accept your offer. I appreciate it!

Critique Requested by Anthraxus (Haunted Forest)

one year ago

For once, I agree with Ace. You are the coolest

Critique Requested by Anthraxus (Haunted Forest)

one year ago

I'm getting shy. Thanks. 

Now I've been called cool, not once but twice. My life is complete. 

Critique Requested by Anthraxus (Haunted Forest)

one year ago
My goodness, that's phenomenal work. Do you do reviews for published stories? I'd love to get your thoughts on mine(shameless plug) and some other new ones, too.

Critique Requested by Anthraxus (Haunted Forest)

one year ago

Thank you! Yes, I do, but it depends on the genre. Typically, I don't review sci-fi/outer space (unless if it's cyberpunk) because I'm not the intended audience, but it varies. What are the genres of your other new ones? Are they on this site? I'd like to take a look and see if they're up my alley.

Critique Requested by Anthraxus (Haunted Forest)

one year ago
Oh, sorry for wording that weirdly. I was curious if you had seen some of the newer games by others on the site. I don’t have any other stories yet(at least, not in words).

Critique Requested by Anthraxus (Haunted Forest)

one year ago

Yes, I've skimmed and marked some for later, including yours! From what I've seen, you have a good eye for detail. Whether I review it or not, I'll at least leave a short comment and/or a rating. For now, I've been looking at older games to see what I've missed and for a nostalgia trip, particularly Dead Man Walking and other post-apocalyptic games. I'm kind of in a beat-everything-to-death mood. 

I don’t have any other stories yet(at least, not in words).

l felt that. Nothing better than creating whole worlds in my head and never doing anything with them.

Critique Requested by Anthraxus (Haunted Forest)

one year ago
Thanks! I've noticed that thinking about writing instead of, well, writing, lets you stumble on neat places to put little details in. I have an uncomfortable amount of story ideas characterized by a one liner description and a few badass sounding scenes that'll probably never get written.

Anyhow, hope you enjoy the readings.

Critique Requested by Anthraxus (Haunted Forest)

one year ago

Huh, I never thought about it like that. Good way to put it! Come to think of it, I'll spend hours agonizing before the computer, but once I step away for five minutes and let my thoughts ramble, most of my best ideas come. Maybe I should do that more often.

Do you keep an idea diary? Sounds like it'd be a shame to forget all those scenes.

I'm sure I will. Feel free to let me know if you have any recommendations. 

Critique Requested by Anthraxus (Haunted Forest)

one year ago
Many of my thoughts that eventually make their way onto the page also springs up when I'm not actively writing, an instrument helps(might just be me, though).

I've been guilty of letting my ideas run free and eventually get lost, unfortunately. It's a good idea to keep a diary, I think I'll draft something up tomorrow.

As for recommendations... I'll try to think of some more when I get enough sleep to be functional. If you're in the mood for something more exhilarating or quick, Malk's Cybermonkey comes to mind. Might be a tad *too* chaotic, though, haha.

Critique Requested by Anthraxus (Haunted Forest)

one year ago

An instrument? What do you play?

Good luck. Personally, I use a Word document, and it's just line after line of random dialogue with an occasional scene popping in. Otherwise, I use the notes app in my iPad or phone.

According to my history, my past self played that, but I'll check it out again because I forgot everything. Thanks! 

Critique Requested by Anthraxus (Haunted Forest)

one year ago
I play the piano a bit, and I've found that my mind wanders in the general direction of the piece's mood. ...I really shouldn't zone out, though sometimes I can't help it.

I can't think of anything better than a word processor to dump ideas into, honestly. Hope you have fun reading!