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The Cloud, Chapter 1

Well, I've been hanging about long enough, trying to make myself a little at home here, hoping to take the edge off my nerves about doing this.  No such luck.  So, 'tis best to get it done with.

This is chapter 1 of my novel, The Cloud.  The title is a working one as "The Cloud" is the series title and I'm still undecided on an actual title.  This title introduces the main character (Micah) and his companions for the duration, his relationships with them and his community and does as much world-building as is feasible without getting wordy.  It's written in first-person and will follow the MC throughout book 1.  I've done all I can (this is the 3rd revision of the 4th draft) to make this novel as polished as I can.  Only outside eyes can help me now.  I'd ask you to be gentle but that would be defeating the purpose.  😁 

It is a little over the 3k word recommendation.  I apologize for that.  Chapter 1 ran a little long at 15 pages and 4,813 words.

Thank you for your kind devastation as you make me a better writer!

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  •  Hi Stephen. Thanks for posting your first chapter. The nerves are just what we all feel when we first offer up our babies for the world to see and remark on! I'll try not to be too devastating! 😄 

    I really liked it. It held my attention throughout, and I would have read on eagerly had this been the whole book. The prose (mostly) flows nicely and is easy to read. You conjure the places and the characters successfully, the action and dialogue complement each other well, and the pace is good.

    There's some lovely world-building, and the 'back-story' is nicely hinted at with the glimpses we get of the 'pre-apocalypse' world before the advent of the Cloud.

    There are some general points which, in my opinion (which is, don't forget, only one opinion!) would make it even stronger and more compelling as a book.

    The biggest is the 'psychic distance'. The book is written in the first person, but much of the description and action is strangely 'distanced', as if Micha's telling the story without that much emotional involvement. I think there's scope to inhabit his head much more closely so that we're experiencing directly what he feels and thinks as well as what he sees and hears. A description of an action - 'I walked up the steep hill towards the cliff edge' is much more powerful if that experience is filtered through the sensory and mental experience of the narrator - 'My calf muscles cramped with pain and my breath came hard as I stuggled up the last few feet of the steep incline. Sweat trickled down my brow ridges. This climb had better be worth it. The cliff edge came at me suddenly, like a revelation, and the valley stretched away below, the view its own reward.' 

    There are a couple of quite length 'info-dumps', mainly to do with the layout and set-up of Micah's village and its inhabitants. Again, this would be stronger if we learned this through Micah's own interactions with both the geographical layout and the people he meets. Less 'travel brochure' and more 'autobiography'.

    Watch out for repeated sentences beginning with 'I'. There were a couple of moments where that became a bit intrusive for me, and I think a quick look through to spot those and re-jig the order of the sentence would really help.

    There are also a few other repetitive sentence structures - 'It's a beautiful creature.  Its flight something no mundane elk could ever achieve.  It’s hard to believe the Cloud could create such a wonder.  It usually brings only chaos and death.' Again, hopefully, a quick change to make.

    I loved the idea of the Cloud, and its effects, by the way, and I thought it was really well set up as an ever-present background threat that permeated every aspect of Micha's culture. Really good, powerful world-building. I also liked the hints of the past world - the stained glass windows were a particularly evocative moment.

    There's an occasional odd moment when a bit more detail might be needed to really immerse the reader. For example, the blacksmith, Shinna, is first seen like this:

    'In front of the meeting hall, the Elder listened to an easily recognizable man.'

    This rather begs the question ' in what way is the man easily recognisable?'. When we want to describe someone we don't tend to say they're 'easily recognisable', we describe what exactly it is about them that's 'easily recognisable'. It might be their 'stocky build' or their 'soot-black hair' or their 'piercing blue eyes' or even their 'air of barely suppressed fury'. But it's usually concrete rather than the abstract 'easily recognisable'.

    When we learn more about Shinna in the following paragraph he comes to life a bit more. But even here, Micha describes him in quite objective terms; I wonder, given that there's a degree of enmity between them, whether Micha would be more personal and emotional? We really only get Micah's feelings about him in that last line, 'I thought him a pompous fool'. Then he comes to life for us through Micha's emotional reaction to him.

    Enough nit-picking! I really think you've got a great story beginning here. I loved the world, the characters were all appealing and their relationships were set up really nicely in terms of the apparent conflicts and alliances. The 'dragon' is a great McGuffin at this point, and I really wanted to see if my initial assumption as to its true nature would be right! What's not to love about a team of adventurers heading off on a quest towards an potentially dangerous unknown! I definitely want to learn more about Micha and his world.

    Great work, hope the above wasn't too devastating(!) and thanks again for posting this. I'll look forward to reading more of your writing in due course!


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    • I was thinking the same thing ☺️

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      • Thank you for the wonderful review and excellent advice.  I had a few misgivings about doing this but you've dispelled them, Jon.  Thank you for that.  Your critique showed me exactly what I needed: how to better my writing.  I'd worked this story absolutely to death and felt I couldn't get any better on my own.  Breaking it into chapters and posting the first one here took a lot of courage (and a great big 'DO IT YOU CHICKEN!' moment of clicking 'Post").  It looks like I'll have to do that with the other 27 chapters... after I revisit them with your helpful advice.

        Again, thank you.

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        • P.S.: As for the dragon, you'll find out in Chapter 4.  😜 

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        • Stephen, I've just found time to look here. Earlier I had written a long critique of your work, but Jon the so aclaimed reviewer (smiley face) stole most of my thunder, so I won't go there too much. I think the story is a good read, but I also noticed the repeat sentence starts and the 'I's everywhere. Those apart, I had a sense of familiarity with this story. Maybe it was the cities name, I've closed the file, Skydome, was it. I'd give that name the flick. It reminds me of some tough bugger in a movie trying to bring down the baddies, but I've forgotten who. Maybe and Arnie movie. Though I call him Arnie because I can't spell Shwartsanegga.😂 

          BUT I liked it. It is a great start and you should have no fear posting it here. They are a tough lot of reviews, other than me, and they'll give great advice. Stick with it and you will get there. Rob.

          See the attachment.


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          • I've got the document dl'd and am reviewing it now.  Thank you for your review and critique.  As I said before with Jon, having positive feedback is helping with my jitters.  I will let you know when I've finished reviewing your critique.

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          • Hi Stephen - I can never work out how to attach files in the forum, so I've messaged you my feedback file. Let me know if you can't find it. 

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            • Looks like you went all out, Kate.  I've got the doc and am reviewing now.  Will reply again once I've had a chance to pour over the details.  I just wanted to let you know I have it.  Just looking at page one, I see that I'll be at it awhile.  Between you and Jon, I'll have my hands full!

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            • I sort of want to see Kate's comments, as I suspect many of mine would echo hers. Though I may also pick out other elements; I often pick up on PoV continuity errors and spatial misalignments. Only one really big one of those, covered below.

              The irony, of course, is that I chose not to continue on page three, at the line "I turned and continued on,"

              The why of this? While I saw hints of the worldbuilding Jon alluded to, I didn't find that opening scene engaging. If anything, I would have to describe it as scattershot.

              You open with a dragon - something that a paragraph or two later is described as made up when people run out of real monsters to talk about, yet on the next page has certain characteristics described as absolutes - which fades from your POV character's perception almost immediately. And, here, an example of spatial misalignment: if teh dragon passes over the scene and is gone within a minute, how fast is it flying? Your POV is atop a cliff, providing a significant range of sight, even if the dragon were flying a scant wing's breadth over the treeline. To disappear within a minute, we are, realistically, talking about extreme speeds, approaching that of sound. The shock wave from that would be a significant factor, the disturbance of the air. Add altitute and you're talking transsonic speeds.

              But, speed and time aside, this is a significant event. To see a dragon is a life-changing moment, given their mythical nature, even in this world of the Cloud. So, for it to be dismissed, and us to be given an info-dump of other aspects of the setting - randomly, jumping around as you do)… I simply was not gripped. The then childish behaviour of chasing an elk off a cliff comes across as utterly unbelievable.

              Aside - as Jon mentioned about sentences starting with I,you may want to look at Harry's blog post from a couple of weeks back, where he talks about getting more immersice with first-poerson POV.

              Back to the opening, as I said, this is a significant moment. You could, quite reasonably, stretch that opening out to maybe five or ten minutes - to allow the dragon time to fly over, to really give its presence impact - and as your POV is watching it, awe-struck, bounch off it to aspects of his life. Weave the backstory - and the now-personal-insignificance of that backstory - into his reactions to seeing a dragon.

              Sorry for ripping into it so harshly. I hope this perception helps.

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              • Thanks for the critique.  It isn't harsh if its meant to help, which this is.  As to speed, there are certain reasons why this is set and then moved on from so quickly.  First and foremost, the dragon really is moving that fast.  Second, the 'indifference' you talk about is actually intentional.  Sure, there's excitement and Kate's critique is helping me to bring that out through psychic distancing, but part of living life in this world is that monsters, even massive monsters, are becoming more commonplace every day.  And new breeds show up all the time.  The initial excitement of a new discovery quickly fades when you're doing it every week (and most of those new discoveries are eager to find out how yummy you taste).  Your perceptions are good and pointing them out has made me look at my writing to see what I need to do to make what I just said more apparent in the writing.  Thanks for that! 😁 *grumbles back to the editing station*
                I do love all the feedback and am grateful.  It's helping a lot.

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                • Stephen, if the new breeds are showing up all the time, to the point that seeing a transsonic dragon is par for the course, then the chasing of the elk becomes even more untenable. On what basis would your POV character presume that it's a known species? Chances are high that attempting to chase it off the cliff would result instead in it turning, opening a maw filled with endless rows of razor teeth, and… yummy.

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                • Okay, using all the most excellent advice given here, I've gone through and rewritten the first chapter.  I'm including it here as a reply rather than a new thread so as not to impede on other work being presented.  If I've done well enough, on to Chapter 2!

                  Again, thanks to everyone who offered such wonderful assistance.

                  Edit: Uploaded the wrong file.

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                  • I've saved a copy and will take a look.

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