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Hey, Tobber! Been a while since I've reviewed something of yours, and I've been looking forward to getting back in this folder. I always enjoy your stories—no matter the draft stage. This is probably the roughest story of yours I've come across, but you probably know that:
I'm guessing there'll be quite a lot of grammatical issues, but you are more than welcome to point them out if you can't help yourself
–And I can help myself.
There are only a few grammatical issues, I think, but there are a lot of typos. You'd probably do better fixing them with a proofreading than with a review full of me pointing them out. It will definitely take you less time, and I feel like I'll give a more useful review if I ignore them, so I'm going to leave those alone—unless they pop up in excerpts I copy-paste for other reasons.
Quick note about my rating: If I were you, I'd just ignore it and move on; you know it's a rough draft, so it'd be crazy to get a final-draft sort of rating on it. My suggestion is to set your "Rating / Reviewing Preference" to "Reviews Only; No Ratings" rather than "Unrestricted Rating and Reviewing" for rough drafts. I just think it's impossible to get a useful rating on something you know is a rough draft. Moving on.
First of all it was written in small 2-5 minute chunks in between other projects.
–This is cool! I love experimenting with different writing exercises and seeing what happens, so it makes me giddy when I get to see (and know I'm seeing) the product of someone else's experiment.
It did produce something that's pretty rough—not only in mechanics, but in story development. There is nothing wrong with that, in a rough draft—it's why we cal lit a rough
draft, yaknow? It's rare to be able to get a story that's of a length outside our wheelhouse right in just one go. For me, it's almost impossible to get it right on the first try even when it is
in my wheelhouse. (It may be that I just don't have a wheelhouse, though; it would explain a lot.
I'm saying all this because I'm bummed that you took “Show Me That Smile” down with the comment that you thought it wasn't worth working on. I so disagree! Yes, it absolutely needed work—mostly in the pacing department, but with a couple little plot things, too—but I think it would have been very worth it. The premise of the story—and the main character—stayed with me. I hope you revisit the premise if nothing else.
Right, back to this untitled story. (You may hate it, but I would've liked having “dragon-rider” somewhere in whatever title you choose, as I think I would have very much appreciated knowing that I needed to look for a dragon-rider when I went in. That, and I have a soft spot for dual meanings, and I can totally see Aialla as a metaphorical dragon-rider as well.)
Everything else I would say here would be answering the questions in your folder, and I've put those at the end. I have a few thoughts and such that go along with copy-pasting bits of the story, so let's get to that, and then I'll get to answering questions and rambling.
This is young Aialla, blue eyed dreamer and hopeless optimist
I like this style/voice of beginning each section with a sentence structure like this. What I missed in other sections was the treatment her mother got in this one—in one sentence of the same kind of structure, we got a picture of her. I don't recall getting a picture of anyone else in the story—I mean, I was told they were there, that they existed, but I didn't get pictures
of them. That's because very, very little of this story is shown; save for this first section/scene, it's almost exclusively told rather than shown.
This is what I wanted. I'm going to be a dragonrider."
Her mother's crying turns to wailing.
I believe you sometimes use two words: dragon rider. If you do that, you should probably put a hyphen in it: dragon-rider. Either way, keep an eye on it when you edit it to make sure it's consistent, whichever way you choose.
But I'm actually here to talk about these couple of lines. The first time I read this, the mother's reaction made perfect sense and was an emotional junxtaposition to Aialla's excitement. But on second reading—holy crap. On second reading, her other's reaction made me realize her mother knew what was really
happening. It went from a mother fearing the dangers of her daughter becoming a dragonrider to to a mother's heart breaking over the daughter believing
that's what was going to happen next. Damn good emotion-farming there.
All her efforts, all that time spent practicing had been noticed, and now the recruiter stood in their doorway beside her father,
Around here I wasn't clear if she thought she was going to be riding dragons—or is she thought she was going to become
Just some wording stuff to be careful of when you revise—not specific to this sentence, but in general. I was just here to talk about something else and this seemed a good place to let this thought fall.
Okay, what I'm actually here for: On first reading, this bit tumbled me out of the story. That she “had been noticed” immediately made me question how and by whom. It was the good, hook kind of questioning, that is. It made me want to “see” it, and I couldn't. It felt like it just needed something more, somewhere, to give me an idea of how someone could have noticed, and how likely it is that something like that could happen.
On second reading, I realize of course that she was never noticed; that, more than likely, her father sold her. But that's what I mean by needing to know how likely it is that someone could be noticed and recruited to the dragonriders. I just didn't feel like I had solid footing on this one little point, but since it's a pivotal point, I really felt that less-than-solid footing.
And I know, right? I'm useless with my total lack of suggestions for it. I hope that knowing really is half the battle, and a starting point.
realize why her father smiled at her departure and why he had hated her
First, I do like that the first part of this sentence, mentioning the bruises and the Hall of Beauty, does a little to prepare me for the twist in the next section. I mean, the bruises are something I would assume a dragonrider could expect as well, so it made me really pay attention to that “Hall of Beauty” as something that didn't seem to fit. Nicely done.
I did get hung up on this strong hint that she wasn't her father's biological daughter—and possibly not even her mother's biological daughter. In this kind of tale, that would usually be a hint or foreshadowing that her actual parentage/cultural heritage/etc. was going to have a significant impact on the plot. I kept looking for it, because I was very curious as to what it could mean for her and the plot, but it never came up again. I'm now left with the assumption that the fact that she's probably not biologically theirs is the explanation for her father's behavior? If that's the case, I'd get rid of that. Fathers can be just as big an asshole to their biological children—and non-biological parents are generally way better than this human stain, so it doesn't stand up as an explanation. I'm not so sure you need an explanation at all; there usually isn't one, in the case of terrible parents, anyway.
This is Aialla grown, though she is only fourteen.
”Oooh, this is gonna be a thing!” I liked having that feeling as I saw this second section starting off with the same kind of structure as the first. Made it feel poetic.
Everything else I have to go over is far more general with no solid anchors to give me specific things to copy-paste. I'm going to get to your questions in a bit, but I'm also going to be answering them a bit in the rambling I'm going to do first.
First thing I feel like I should go over is the “telling” that takes place in your narrative style, and the lack of “showing,” and how that is detrimental to immersion. As soon as we hit the second section we leave behind really getting to “see” things as we did in the first section. In the second section, we're told what she wears, what her life actually is, that today is one of the better days, that one old woman told her the truth of her situation. Good information, but I don't get to see/experience any of it. There's no real immersion, and that carries through the rest of the story.
I hate saying that because I'm so scared you're going to trash this story!
I do think it's worth doing the work to rewrite more toward showing than telling. It would mean taking the time to write out some scenes that you only tell us about, now. Not all of them, but enough to keep us immersed.
For instance, I'd love to actually see that scene when the older woman tells Aialla the truth—Aialla practicing with her makeshift sword, wondering about the accommodations, and the disbelief at the woman's words. This would also give you the chance to give the older woman some characterization, which is particularly important because of her role in the rest of the story. (One thing that shocked me was that Aialla had no qualms about poisoning her; she might have thought her cold and heartless, but it seemed she has some respect for the fact that the woman told her the truth.)
And the thing is, even if you wind up not liking this story, it's good exercise. For writing longer stories—longer than flash fiction, I mean—it's really good exercise to have.
Here, let's get to your questions:
Is the speculative element too unoriginal?
I don't think so! And I say that from the position of having read another story with a similar speculative element not too long ago. I'm not much a fan of dragon-riding, either, and yet I enjoyed the premise, and the first scene—and I enjoy thinking what it'd be like to really see what happens, experience it.
Does the plot and pacing work?
I think the plot works, yes. It's definitely a rise-from-ruins story, and I dig those. The pacing, though, is a little odd. I hate to say this, because the opening section is my favorite, but I'd think about scrapping that opening scene. Or, if not that, plan on adding a lot of wordage, specifically to transition us from the first section to the second with more meat—like letting us see her show up to the harem's quarters and what she thinks of that versus when she believes she's walking into, and working up to the older woman telling her what's really going on.
The thing is, as it is—starting where it does now, getting the child Aialla up to the point of past her prime—as far as harems go—takes a lot of development. It can
be glossed over; I know I've seen stories that make that kind of thing work, but I can't think of any in particular so I can't even say what this story would need in order to get there.
Honestly, though, I think you could just about open the story with the first time Aialla goes with the washerwoman. Let us experience the world and the tension with multiple senses while getting in on Aialla's feelings and personality. In that space, we can also get an idea of her background. When they pass the hallway to the where the dragons are, we can start to get a notion of her wish of riding one. Let all that information trickle in while she's scheming to do these washing trips on her own.
And I'm not saying that's where you should start, necessarily; I'm just trying to throw out an alternative to hopefully help you look at the story arc in a different way. I write tons of stuff with all the backstory stuff that you have, and then I'll start over—from a place much farther along in the story that I originally wrote, and in that way I've come to love quite a few stories that I had previously felt pretty meh about. At the same time, if I hadn't written it the first way I wouldn't have the info to trickle into the eventual “real” story. I will totally concede that my past experience with my own stories makes me biased, is what I'm saying.
Are the descriptions strong, or does the sentence level writing need some work?
Like I said, there are a couple of grammatical things, but nothing that breaks anything. It's that “telling” instead of “showing” that kept me feeling like I wasn't invited into the story.
The descriptions in that first section/scene are good! Aialla smiling and her mother crying—could see and feel that. I felt a little claustrophobic in the closeness of their little hut. It didn't have much in the way of detailed description, but you set the scene there.
For the rest, I have kind of an almost pixelated mind image of a generic castle—one that only has two hallways; one with the harem at one end and a washroom at the other while the other leads to the dragons. I would love a sense of that castle and the harem room—maybe the other women in that harem room, too. There's one mention of what she wears, early on, but I my brain didn't latch onto it. What's the washerwoman wear?
And some closing thoughts and such.
I'd like to “meet” a dragonrider earlier in the story, to see what they're like when they're not shooting at someone.
I had a hard time believing that dragon fire would hurt other dragons. Just throwing that out there.
She's done all this sword-practicing, but it's always been with only herself we're told—not instructors. I have no idea if she's even seen real swordplay. So, while I imagine she has some great muscle development for it, I also assume her actual skills are severely lacking. She probably has terrible habits. It would be interesting to be with her when she realized that, and to see her triumph over the guards anyway.
I did find that scene believable, that she could defeat those guards. I'm sure that pure shock on their part largely made that possible, and I think you did a good job of getting that across.
Oh! Yes, once the action starts, you do come back over the showing more than telling; you put us in a scene instead of just relaying events. It feels like it's missing something, but I think that's because of the telling that came before it. That makes it seem like there isn't quite enough meat on Aialla's actions, and I don't really know how to feel about her because we've been without her emotions since we left that first section. That “missing something” is why I just about forgot that you came back over to “showing” here toward the end.
Sorry about that; my notes are a mess. I mean, that's normal, but I'm usually better at translating them to screen.
I see enough potential in it to have printed it out and scribbled on the printout, and that's just not something I do for every rough draft, not even the ones that are mine.
I'm really intrigued by what kind of character you can develop out of what you have of Aialla. That's what I think will make or break this story, because there are other dragon-riding stories out there, and because there are other harem-girl-rising stories and there are other castle life/harsh soldiers stories. But you've fit them all together and in a way that makes it feel like a fresh read, but it's still going to need a uniquely intriguing MC, and I think Aialla's on her way to being that.
I hope you think so, too.
As always, if you have any questions or just want to throw things at me, go ahead. I'll stand still if you want to throw mushy fruit, but I reserve the right to try to dodge rocks and items of similar hardness.
My review has been submitted for consideration in "Good Deeds Get CASH!" .