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Honest feedback... does any of this make sense?


Darkness was the last thing Avidius expected when his eyelids opened. It was if he had awoken deep inside a cave, where light could not penetrate. A terror came over him for a moment, thinking he was dead. But he could hear tree branches rustling in the breeze, smell wet grass, and feel a mossy turf beneath his palms where he lay. No... he was very much alive. But why couldn’t he see? He rose in a panic, feeling for his eyes. Blindness was worse than death. In his youth, Avidius had suffered recurring nightmares about losing his sight and wandering aimlessly through Rome’s back alleys; penniless, friendless, hearing only the pitied mutterings of others. The nightmare would always end with him frantically seeking the nearest sharp object, opening an artery along his wrist, and laying down to die. Nothing terrified him more... except, of course, losing another child.

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    • Hey Ryan,

      Just found you/this :)  I enjoyed it very much--- and as a Sci Fi devotee, the premise pulled me right in.  Questions: How far along is the manuscript?  Your characters fully drawn and intimate friends of yours?  Response:  Someone writing along the same lines of this missing 'legion' means there is interest--- that's all.  Your tale is great. 

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      • I am on my fourth draft. It was at 180k words, but have successfully reduced it down to around 120k. There is another series by Marc Alan Edelheit that deals with the same subject. But unlike him, my version the Ninth is more in the background rather than the main attraction, leaving room for my story to be more character-driven. 

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      • Hi Ryan

        I think that writers sometimes forget that they are carrying on the tradition of simply telling tales to entertain - although I appreciate that the writer-reader relationship is a little different. 

        Re. the telling: I'd suggest you take another look at your extract (and the entire MS, if you're at that stage) and do a 'Find' check of words which indicate telling, like those suggested by the others. Look at where they occur, and how frequently, and if they pull you - wearing your reader hat - out of the character. I'm a frequent 'teller', and constantly have to check that I'm not overdoing it. But, sometimes you just have to tell.

        Sorry, I'm with Paul on the lay/lie point. 

        Kate's suggestion of 'scrabbling' is a good one. The two things I thought of: ...wandering aimlessly... (if he's blind, albeit in a nightmare, mightn't he be stumbling around?)  and, again, if he's blind, how could he be frantically seeking the sharp object? Possibly - frantically using some sharp object to open an artery..... (some, to indicate that he's found it but not necessarily by seeing it).

        BTW, I've done some research on how to bleed to death (my own WIP is that gory in places) and it appears the best way to do it is to slice down the artery, not across the wrist as most people imagine. That way, the blood flows out faster. Still, in your scenario, it's just a dream.

        Don't worry about the 'cliché' - if the character is coming round from unconsciousness into possible blindness, it's going to be dark.

        I actually liked the extract and your use of language and the idea of a portal intrigues. Keep going with it.

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        • I love your analysis on the dream. You made cogent points that clearly had escaped me when I was writing this. My point with the dream was to inject the antagonist with some relatable vulnerabilities and try to draw the reader into feeling the same panic. But it needs work. Thanks again.

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        • Notwithstanding the lack of context, I struggle a bit with this piece, Ryan.

          As others have mentioned, you are telling rather than showing. I'll focus elsewhere. You threw me with the first line: Darkness was the last thing Avidius expected when his eyelids opened. Really? Could he see hints of light through them? If not, why wouldn't he expect darkness? Close your eyes. Observe. Then put your hands over your eyes. Realise how much less you see when you cover them. It may be entirely subconscious, but people will generally not be surprised when they open their eyes to darkness; they will have identified the lack of light before opening them.

          The second sentence, then, is largely redundant. Not totally. You can use it to say that it really is pitch black, but deep within a cave / where light could not penetrate is repetitive. Say it once.

          We then dive into a lot of the telling.

          I can't say whether the way you've included the backstory works; I would drop it to another paragraph, though. However, where it jarred the most was your bait-and-switch.

          With a name like Avidius, I'm assuming this is ancient Rome rather than modern Rome. (If that's wrong, this may not apply.) In those times, one child in every two born didn't survive their first year. And only half of those that lived a year made it to twenty. Death of children was common. People would have still grieved, but the trauma you are implying with your last line is horribly anachronistic. It's painting ancient times with 21st century sensibilities.

          I might be extreme in this, but if an author is so ignorant of human psychology to assume that all time periods or all cultures share whatever is the author's own norm, I have to assume that too much else in their work will be equally anachronistic; I have been known to put a book down over something like that.

          But it's not only that I don't believe the last line. It's also, as I said, that it's a bait-and-switch. You've gone to lengths to give us a picture of Avidius' panic when confronted with blindness – and the pre-existing terror – then turned the whole thing into a cheap setup to tell us he previously lost a child and can't cope with the reality that he's likely to lose another.

          So… Does it make sense? Sort of, notwithstanding logical failures. Does it work? Not for me.

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          • Fair point. I suppose, having never experienced losing my eyesight, it makes it hard for me to write about it. I know I'm trying to convey the utter shock of sudden blindness. The thought is terrifing. I just need the correct combination of words to get that point across. 

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            • Which brings us back to what others have said. You're telling too much.

              If what's important is the shock of sudden blindness, imagine that. Work with the sensations directly.

              You don't need the backstory that Avidius has always been afraid of losing his sight. (Unless you're repeating that beat several times before it finally happens.) Get inside his head. Stay there. Experience every moment with his.

              Have him stir. Experience each sensation as it comes to him: sounds, turf underhand, darkness. Darker than makes sense; it was morning only moments ago. Open his eyes. Blink. Nothing. Are his eyes working? Turn his head. Feel the breeze on his cheek. Still nothing. (Is your heart speeding up?) Squint. Any sign? Not even starlight. No moon. It's not a new moon, is it? How can he not see? This is wrong. Push up to a sitting position. Pat the ground. Feels like it should, where he was before. Reach out. Anything there? Anyone? Raise a hand to his face? Are my eyes...? Yes, still there. But nothing. Cover them. No difference. Squeeze, Not even the impression of colour. What's wrong? What's wrong? What's wrong?

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              • Thanks. Excellent examples. 

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              • In my opinion, bait and switch is only really bad at the end of a book, because I want to feel the ending pulls things together in a coherent manner with the rest of the story.

                If, as you say, Ryan, your extract is from the middle of the story, we've already learned the significance of the lost child, and your intention is to tell more about the protagonist, it could be considered ok. My only problem with it is that it jars a little in the reading, when I think I should be more concerned about the poor bloke who just discovered he (may be?) blind. Wouldn't that be of even more importance to him at this particular point?

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                • Yes it would. I thought it was just an innnocent tid-bit of exposition I could sprinkle in. But you've all convinced me that I knee-capped you. I'll revise.

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                • Hi Ryan

                  It's an interesting passage and it does let us into the inner life of Avidius. I want to echo the opinions of others and add that you could include more details about the setting. What time of day is it? If it's daytime, can Avidius feel the sun on his body, making the darkness more inexplicable? Or perhaps describe what Avidius would expect the afterlife to be like, and so reject that possibility based on other sensations, or even reorder the sequence of impressions, so that he comes to his most feared situation - blindness - last.

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