Way back, I was on a mailing list devoted to fanfiction. On Saturdays a bunch of the writers would get together and share fics. Everyone would put in about a thousand words of whatever they’re working on, and after reading everything (took about an hour), people would discuss and provide C&C.

The C&C was often surprisingly straight forward. “Please describe this room better.” “These characters have good chemistry.” I don’t think I was ever surprised. It was nice to get a little feedback as a writer, and as a reader, it was nice to see something develop. Made you feel part of the group, and it was reassuring to see someone else fall into the same traps you fell into and would fall into again.

I want to set something like that up on Discord.

Blindly Falling in Love

Spoilers abound

Blindly Falling in Love is the work of UnicornofAmber. I spend all my time thinking about writing, so I’m going to blather for a while.

The world needs more Amberfic, and by God they’re going to get it!

As the author describes in the summary, Corwin doesn’t interact with Vialle much. He speaks with her once towards the end of the first series, but swiftly discounts her interactions in his somewhat self-absorbed way. It is this egocentrism that defines Corwin and also provides the motivation for much of his evil in the beginning and redemption later one.

However purely selfishly, it also denies us readers a chance to figure out what these other people are doing. Bluntly, what’s up with Vialle? Why does she do what she does? Random himself is imperfectly described, and Corwin takes him to be a little gremlin early. Random’s also capable of casual murder, which sets up some interesting contradictions in Corwin. (Corwin saves the truck driver’s life and then leads a million odd creatures of shadow to their deaths) But with a dearth of detail about Vialle’s feelings for Random and herself nearly a lacuna, their meeting and interactions that prelude Random gaining the Throne of Amber are nothing more than a sense of wonder. We know stuff is going on, but we don’t know what. Into this valley of sonder charges the UnicornofAmber.

Three chapters in, and I get the impression that the author really cares about the characters.

Beginning with the lead herself, Vialle is both interesting and still strangely blank. We learn the how of her personality but not the why. The opening scene, before the wedding, we get little description of how Vialle perceives the world outside of some description of the soundscape, and little description of Vialle by herself. As an aquatic creature, how does she perceive a room? How does she perceive herself? We get insinuations of loneliness, the odd, comfortable loneliness of the long term solitary before losing it, as well as a surge in excitement and trepidation to be married. She’s unhappy to be married to an Amberite but tells herself to be grateful she’s getting married at all. She has a list of names, ready to mind, of people she can’t marry. She violently reacts to her own reactions. There’s a lot of good internal conflict in there, and internal conflict is as delightful to read as it is unpleasant to feel. Sort of like walking into Mordor, I bet.

The sensation of both excitement and resistance crops up again in the wedding, as she fights Random a split second to ‘see’ him first, and almost immediately kisses him thereafter. One gets an immense feeling of need, like she’s desperate for someone, and when she finds out her someone is Random, she goes all in. Random hasn’t really done much yet, and that’s fine.

Moving on the heart of the story is obviously Vialle’s imprisonment with her husband, and other than an incidental stabbing of Caine, she gets into his prison and he’s a bit horrible. I’m slow to throw stones as Eric does imply he might kill Random, and being jailed under a sword of Damocles might make anyone a bit cranky. Here again Vialle seems to take things in stride.

The obvious purpose of the first chapter is build a character and get her into jail with Random. It works. While details are a little sparse and our narrative is more Hemmingway than Austin, the ride to jail is interesting enough to get things done.

The rest is rough. There’s no sharp scene break between introduction and wedding. We don’t get a description of Vialle, or possibly more revealing, of people like Moire that Corwin’s already described. I kinda wanted to compare and contrast their descriptions. Likewise we don’t even get a description of Random by Vialle’s fingers, and I found that lacking. If she cares, we as the readers care. Likewise, the fight with Caine is truncated. She feels the knife, and then it’s at his throat. She gets the jump on a Prince of Amber, and UnicornofAmber doesn’t narrate it? I wanted a bit more.

But again, in the second chapter with Vialle and Random alone, the fic hits its stride. Again there’s a complex dynamic, but again I don’t have the description I need. I don’t really know what Random sounds like. Is his voice high and nasal? Low? Does he speak fast or slow? This element of showing isn’t included, and while the MC being blind means we don’t get visual descriptions, I wanted some aspect of what does she see. None of that is game breaking, because the dialogue is fast. She and he aren’t together emotionally, but they’re stuck together physically. There’s pressure and tension. They’ve got two beds in the same cell (which I liked a great deal). I wanted a little more setting.

The third chapter is similar. Eric appears but is undeveloped. In the books, Eric is somewhat askance at Vialle, doesn’t want to have an incident with Moire, and his motivations are a blend of selfishness or diplomacy. He doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time.

This ends the review
What follows is advice for UnicornofAmber

If you have a strong plan for what’s ahead, stop reading here. You’ve got a good story. Random and Vialle work, and their interactions are charming. I want to read more. What follows is my reaction to a problem I see coming. Three chapters is early, so you might not go down this road at all nor need my help. You’ve got good stuff here as is, and I think you can develop this a lovely little read.

But if you want some developmental help:

I don’t know why Vialle does what she does. Random isn’t doing anything, because he’s in jail. Eric is undisclosed. Caine’s a sleazeball. Cool, I get all of that, and I buy it, but WHY?

I want to take a moment to talk about plot. There are two basic plots, situational and character driven. Situational plots work best for series and the plot happens to the characters. Think murder mysteries or NGE. Plot happens. “Bob is dead. Who did it?” or “Get in the robot, Shinji!” Things happen to the characters and as a result, things must be done!

The other type is character driven plots. These are better for constrained works, because when the plot is over the book is done. Stand alone narratives work like this and most novels (we’ll pick on Stephen King).

All plots follow the same progression.

1) What does the character want?
2) Why can’t they have it?
The answer to 1 is motivation. The answer to 2 is the plot.

1) What does Macbeth want?
To be king.
2) Why can’t he have it?
Because Duncan is already King.

So what does Macbeth do? Kills Duncan. (Spoiler, but it was written >300 years ago.) The entire story is the result of this action, and the counter reactions.

When Macbeth gets his crown his motivation changes:
1) What does Macbeth want?
To stay king.
2) Why can’t he have it?
People are investigating him for murder.

Pet Sematary:
1) What does Louis Creed want?
His son back.
2) Why can’t he have it(him)?
His son is dead.

So what does Louis Creed do? Buries his son in the Pet Sematary.

When the character gets what they want, is forever forestalled from getting what they want, or gives up on wanting that thing, the plot is over. Roll credits.

You liked the character of Llewella, so I’ll break her down in the Nine.
1) What does she want?
A) to make a home for herself and B) to be respected
2) Why can’t she have it?
A) She doesn’t feel welcome in Amber nor that she belongs in Rebma and B) Moire is exploiting her power as queen to keep Llewella in her place and C) orcs are attacking

Moire of course sees things very differently, and the magical rings Bleys is handing out like popcorn are totes not involved. You pointed that out yourself.

1) What does Obrecht want?
Rings of power
2) Why can’t he have it(them)?
Other people have the rings.
What’s he going to do? Bad stuff.

Returning to Falling Blindly in Love,
1) What does Vialle want?
Be with Random.
2) Why can’t she have it?
She can. She does. By the end of chapter 1 she’s with Random.


So I’m asking myself, what’s going on? What else does Vialle want, and how is she going after it? What does Random want, and how does Vialle interact with that?

This is the reason I complained above about a lack of detail in Vialle. I don’t know what she wants other than to be with Random, and she is. Since we know the ending, and Vialle and Random will stay together, I don’t know where it’s going to go. They can break up and get back together, but I’d like to know why she wants to be with Random.

Allow me to speculate. Does she have dependency issues? That’s perfectly fine, and perhaps much as she teaches Random not to be a little turd, he teaches her about self worth.

1) What does she want?
To be with a great and mighty prince of amber because she’s worthless (motivation that she must take action to achieve in and of itself).
2) Why can’t she have it?
Because if she doesn’t think she’s worth anything, Random agrees with her and as a Prince of Amber, he’s holding out for someone better.

This leads to conflict (she’s after him and he can’t get away because he’s in jail). Ultimately she has to do great things to get his attention, and he makes her realize she’s a worthwhile person to make her go away. That attacks her motivation, up above. This causes her to undergo catharsis and realize she’s a worthwhile person.

1) Now what does she want?
To be with/repay the person who taught her she was worth something.
2) Why can’t she have it?
She has to persuade him she understands this to catch her man.

This is actually a great plot, and a flip of a common story wherein the man chases the woman. I find the idea of a blind girl chasing a mighty Prince of Amber amusing. She’s also going to have to reach down deep and find inner strength because catching her Prince of Amber won’t be easy.
Then, when she’s with Random, she has achieved her motivation, and her arc is done. Coincidentally, Corwin arrives with guns out of Avalon, and the OS continues.

ON THE OTHER HAND, you can write a plot driven story like NGE or murder mysteries.
1)What does Vialle want?
To stay with Random (motivation that won’t, by itself, induce any action).
2)Why can’t she have it?
The Black Road has brought monsters out of Garnath, and they’re all going to die.

So Vialle needs to save some people, and I don’t know why it would be her instead of the Amberites.
Actually, that’s super obvious. Black Road creatures kidnap Random and his siblings are all perfectly prepared to leave him for dead. Only the blind girl cares. She must follow the Black Road or shadow or wherever to save him.

The more I think about that, the more I like it, and if that’s what you’re going to do, ignore everything above.

Where I’m going with this, all of this, is the character that drives the plot, the main character, the protagonist, must be motivated to achieve, acquire, be, or do something they cannot achieve, acquire, be, or do because of adversity. This is an identity. The character wanting the things and doing the actions to get the things is the protagonist. If Vialle is the protagonist, she must yearn for something she can’t have (at least not at the beginning) because her actions to achieve, acquire, do, or be will be the action of the story. When she, or whomever, gets it, or her motivation changes such that she is no longer taking action to drive the story, her story arc is done.

And now, for GRAMMAR.

I hate it too, but eh.
I strongly recommend:

Or buying a copy of Strunk and White: Elements of Style. You should be able to find a used copy for a couple bucks, and it’s probably the best and most useful book on English grammar there is.

Big or major words in the title should be capitalized.

Blindly Falling in Love

All dialogue needs truncating punctuation. If it is followed by a dialogue tag (he said, she said, he muttered, he continued) wherein the verb is a synonym of said, use a comma for the bridge and a period at the end. The word that follows the comma is not considered the beginning of a sentence, so only capitalize if you would normally.

He said, “Janice, I shot a man today.”

“I know,” she replied.

See commas? The intervening comma replaces a period. The closing period remains.

For action tags that tell the reader who’s doing the talking but are not themselves dialogue, use periods. Interpret this strictly. It comes across as being very strange. For example, one cannot laugh dialogue. One can say dialogue while laughing but not well

“If you tell anyone, I’ll kill you.” He got up and pointed at her with his knife.

“You don’t have the balls.” She laughed.

If the comma would be a punctuation mark other than a period, use that instead.

“Never say that to me again!” he yelled.

“What are you going to do, coward?” she asked.

Show, don’t tell.

Telling: While singing Vialle noted that Random’s breathing slowed down completely, indicating to her that he was finally asleep.

Showing: While singing Vialle noticed Random’s breathing slowed. Every third breath emerged as a snore, and in his sleep he whistled.

Use forms of to be, such as was, and setup verbs, such as begin, less.

“Alright.” nodded Vialle as she strode back to the table to search for an apple and began to take a bite out of it.

“Alright.” Vialle nodded as she strode back to the table to search for an apple. She took a bite.

(Notice the adjustment of the descriptor action. One cannot nod words outside of perhaps Morse Code, and I don’t think that’s what was going on here)

I don’t want to go into too much more depth, because grammar and style become inextricable quickly, and my style may not work for you. But never be afraid to use said nor use a more flowery term because you feel like said is getting boring. Many authors exclusively use said. I disagree with that entirely but do think said should be the default dialogue verb, perhaps aside from asked for questions.

Anyway, good luck and happy writing.

K.R.I.S. – First Impact by Herrick Erickson 2/2

Herrick reached out to me on tapas.io after he started two series. The first, A Scholar’s Journey, is complete. It’s available at Patreon here. I don’t have a book or ebook link. The second is KRIS – First Impact which is still ongoing. I offered some advice about dialogue, and he said he would like it for First Impact.

Anyone who reads and subscribes to my material may get a chapter’s worth of extensive C&C. I hope this is useful and productive.

Chapter 1 consists of three total conversations, the first I addressed yesterday. The second one is the most important, and the third should be the most exciting.

Preliminarily, I’d put the description of Dane between the guards talking and his holo message with Hale. Otherwise it’s a bit far from where it becomes useful, and I had a scroll a few times to recall who was talking. Likewise, the quote at the very beginning which introduces Hale was an odd place to introduce characters. I also thought Haley and Kaylee were the same person, and Hale, Kaylee, and Haley are very close names. Maybe switch that up a bit so they’re not so phonetically similar?

Also preliminarily, grammar and syntax: “They Killed Kaylee!” Killed shouldn’t be capitalized. Dialogue, specifically direct quotes, usually takes its own paragraph. Don’t stuff description and dialogue in the same paragraph, especially not if they’re on dissimilar ideas. Later: “Kaylee,” he gasped. “No!” he yelled <- is redundant and repetitive. Remove the 'he yelled.' The mantra Dane repeats to himself should not have the same punctuation as a direct quote, because it becomes unclear if it's being said out loud. There's no speech attribution, but it's got the double quote marks of a direct quote.

But what is said here works much better. Hale's internal conflict is visible and accessible. The words themselves do a good job of displaying his anguish, and I'd rely on the strength there instead of explicitly stating it later. Hale also has a good description. I can pin that name and face to an identity. I'd put Dane's big No closer to Hale saying they killed her, because as is there's a pause and Hale's moved on to other topics before Dane let's loose. Again, I would condense that paragraph (the one where Kaylee is killed and Aiden disappears) into one idea. Right now Hale talks about some problems and goes into his 'I need you' Dane bit. Those are distinct ideas. Let Dane react to Kaylee dying and have his freakout.

Also, names so far are Hale, Haley, Kaylee, Dane, and Aiden. Syntex breaks the streak, but those are too many names too close together.

Dane escapes with hacker help, and then we finally get the description of the guards. But this is long after the guards are introduced. They shoot him, and the narrative goes back to that attempted de-escalation. The officer says don't shoot the prisoner, and now the stakes of Dane's escape are lowered. I assume you're going to raise them next chapter, but again, you've got to set your hooks in the first chapter. Very challenging to maintain excitement. Also, Dane says that was a "fatal mistake" right after the officer says don't kill the prisoner. So Dane's the killer, but he's also got the nannites, so he comes across as the unstoppable bad guy trying to kill the good guys. The whole thing is very jumbled.

In general, the dialogue needs to be simplified. The first few paragraphs of Hale speaking have multiple speech attributions and statements and descriptions in a single paragraph, and that is difficult to read. Descriptions of people should be close to those people talking. The flow needs to follow ideas. Again, going back to Hale's BIG REVEAL, Kaylee is dead, presumably Hale is deeply upset about that too. But he rushes past it. Hale needs to react to what he says and Dane needs to react too.

That came across as being far more negative than I meant. My objective here is to help you improve, and I focused on what should be improved. But I'd like to point out a few things that worked well.

Hale saying come to me is perfect. It sets up the immediate plot and an immediate bit of direction. The next few chapters have a clear idea, and as a reader, I know what's going on and I know why.

Syntex opening the cell is fine. Gets things moving, develops the bit of help Dane needs to get working, and now the actiony stuff can take place without a series of 'how did he get out of the cell' questions. That's good, and establishes Syntex for later. It's good to have characters in the wings for later use.

Hale's internal conflict, anger at Dane for abandoning him and presumably Kaley/Halee, is good. Got some characterization there, and the conflict makes it interesting. Dane's aside that he can't pilot a shuttle is also perfect. Adds danger.

The setting is cool. I like the idea of orbital prisons, so I'm interested in seeing the details of where this thing is, who runes it, the cool technobabble and futuretech within. That's a good hook to drag your readers along.

I think you have some potential here. Good luck, and I hope this helps.

K.R.I.S. – First Impact by Herrick Erickson 1/2

Herrick reached out to me on tapas.io after he started two series. The first, A Scholar’s Journey, is complete. It’s available at Patreon here. I don’t have a book or ebook link. The second is KRIS – First Impact which is still ongoing. I offered some advice about dialogue, and he said he would like it for First Impact.

Anyone who reads and subscribes to my material may get a chapter’s worth of extensive C&C. He subbed Bloodharvest so here goes. I hope this is useful and productive.

C&C for Herrick
Your number one objective in writing is make the reader care. Through dialogue you have a few tools to do this.

The first is empathy. Your reader will follow a character’s emotions at least a little bit, and more or less depending on how the character is presented. (While there are exceptions, they usually involve odd situations or a lot of setup.) In an intro chapter like this, you want the reader to care about the story. As such always have the characters care. Never have them dismissive or apathetic about the plot, because the readers will empathize with the characters and thus not care about your story.

The beginning of your story gets exciting a few pages in with the introduction of Hale. The first part is just rounds. But since you’re using dialogue to introduce the setting (This is a great choice, btw), you need to make two guards making rounds interesting. This is another form of making the reader care, so you want to use more tricks.

The next trick is use the power of names. People attach memories and importance to names. I’m not talking about anything mystical; I’m talking about the fact that if someone knows someone else’s name or a character’s name, caring about that person or character is a little easier. The two guards need names and descriptions, and those names and descriptions need to be interesting, because we need to care about them enough to read about two guards making rounds.

Who are the guards? I need detail. The first should be name, the second rank (just because you invoke one calling another sir and in the military, that’s a rank thing). So Private Smith and Lieutenant Jones need nametags or something. Most uniforms have them. This also gives you an inroad to describing the guards. Keep it brief unless they’re going to be important characters, but we need a few details.

In terms of detail, specific is almost always better than general.

So Private Bob Smith’s khaki uniform needs to be excessively clean and pressed, his weapon, the newly issued assault rifle with Micron Optic and double-mags, should be slung in a single-point sling, and his head shaved to perfection. Lt Marian Jones needs to be ten kilograms overweight, rough-shaven, and his slacks and jacket have faded until they’re different colors. He’s unarmed except for a holstered gel-wand that hasn’t been drawn in so long it has lint stuck in it. Lt Jones clearly doesn’t own an iron, much less has used one on his uniform since mankind reached the stars.

Obviously I’m making all this up, but see how it’s fast, specific, and identifiable? Smith and Jones are now people. That description also sets up the discussion of weapons later. Call-back details like that reward the reader and encourage investment.

Now into the dialogue itself.

First, regarding point 1, never have another character tell the first one to relax or not care unless you want the reader to empathize with the second character who is about to emphatically care. Lt Jones needs to be telling Pvt Smith how deadly these killers are. He needs to be telling Smith to never let his guard down. Prisoner Dane might look innocent, but no one on this block is innocent. He is a seriously bad dude. It’s a damn shame they’re not allowed to shoot to kill. If Lt Jones had his way they wouldn’t shoot first and ask questions later, they’d shoot first and reload.

Secondly, don’t shift gears suddenly, especially not this early. The officer tells the newbie that Dane does nothing but workout and eat, but then says he’s dangerous. That’s a shift. Set it up so working out and eating is dangerous. Make mention of the nanites if you can. That’s a good detail, so use it. Likewise, later, the newbie mentions this is an orbital prison where no one has escaped in twenty years. Then he suddenly asks what’s the prisoner’s name. Massage that a little so it’s one thought.

Suggest: “But sir!”

“Didn’t I say don’t call me sir?” asked Lt Jones, looking away and above Smith’s head.

Pvt Smith was too excited to stop. “Sir, no one’s escaped from Orbital Prison 6 in twenty years. There’s no chance that prisoner—” Smith paused to look up the prisoner’s name in his datasheet. “—Dane could be the first!”

See how that’s one thought and it escalates? It drags the reader into caring. Notice also how Pvt Smith is the newbie learning about the setting, like us readers, and he cares, like you want us readers to do? Jones reiterates that he doesn’t like being called sir, the callback that reinforces investment, and is very speciifcally dismissive about only that, not the plot as a whole? The reader is rewarded and encouraged to care about the plot.

On the subject of escalation, it’s an old rule of thumb that the author should always be raising the stakes. It’s a good rule of thumb. Build, build, build. If your characters get more and more excited, they’ll drag the readers along too.

Look, as a reader I want to be excited. I want to care about your story. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t read it and I’d be writing VHDL for work. I’m not doing that. I want to be dragged away. Give me an excuse.

Speaking of, the orbital prison is a good detail. Support it. Add cool space-age details. Don’t wait until the next chapter, because you’ve got to hook your readers now. Throw some zero-g around, or make everything green. Add awesome. Have a window that overlooks the sun to demonstrate the space station isn’t even in orbit over a habitable world. Raise the stakes.

Part One