Two weeks, two days, and some odd hours, minutes, and seconds later, I actually finished my read-through and critique of this. School kicked me in the shins again, but not nearly as hard as last term. As usual, everything was covered line-by-line in document, but theses are the heavy hitters I want you to focus on for your edits or next draft.
In the category of grammar and technical merit:
First, let me say that your grammatical prowess have improved significantly since my critique of chapter one. There are still a few issues of pronouns and their antecedents, which I recall from chapter one being a large
contributor to “Grammar” comments, but they aren’t nearly as prevalent as before and seem to stem more from snowballing mechanics than anything else. A series of “he”s or “she”s that are correct in their current form, but something I suggested be corrected will cause them all to tumble out of alignment. There are still a few instances of honest ambiguity, though, such as a moment when a pronoun mistakenly refers to HRH Guinemare when she isn’t anywhere near the current scene, Guinemare having been mentioned in a moment of exposition, but the narrative didn’t re-establish the proper antecedent before continuing. The biggest problem this type of issue causes for you is a disjoint between Twilight and her relationship with her parents.
>Her mother glared at her husband,
There’s a couple instances of this. No matter how I read this sort of line, I think “Twilight’s mother” and “Twilight’s husband.” “Twilight” is the antecedent that the first “her” is referring back to, and it makes a degree of sense to think that the second “her” would then refer back to “Twilight’s mother,” as the actor is a female and meets the criteria for a female pronoun. But here’s the problem; “her,” when used in its adjective form – which it is, modifying the noun “mother” – marks the noun it’s modifying as a possession of the pronoun being used. Meaning that “her mother” is actually still a reference to Twilight, with the added detail of associating with her mother. It’s similar to saying “her ring,” or “her book.” The items are being marked as belonging to a previously mentioned female, not brought into the narrative as items in their own right. So when you say “her mother” you’re not actually bringing Twilight’s mother forward as a female actor to be referenced. You’re qualifying the actor as having a relation to your protagonist. Ergo, when you say “her mother and her husband,” both those “her”s refer back to Twilight.
A more persistent problem is in your syntax. Misplaced, improper, unnecessary, or sometimes downright missing words in your syntax is probably your largest hurdle grammatically. It’s about thirty to forty percent of the grammatical errors I found. Whether it be an issue of the correct tense, a choice between the right prepositional, whether to use the prepositional at all, where to stick your conditionals, using the right synonym for the context, using the right word period, proper use of singular and plural forms, or simply when not
to use a word. Here are some of your more egregious syntax problems.
>Along the path stood the occasional marble statue, all of them depicted unicorns standing in a very grandiose manner.
In this case, the word “depicted” is perfectly accurate to what you want to convey. The root word, “depict,” is a verb meaning: Show or represent by a drawing, painting, or other art form
. Given that this is a statue, the word fits quite nicely. However, the tensing you choose, past-participle, turned what you intended to have as a subordinate clause into an independent one. The present participle, “depicting,” will make the phrase subordinate and unable to stand on its own, thus justifying the comma without the coordinator.
>Twilight turned around to see that both of her parents had left her side and was standing by the wall, nodding.
Again, right root word – In this case, “be” – but the wrong form. “Was” is the past tense of “be,” but only in the singular. Given that you were trying to refer to something in plural, this word incorrectly calls back to the previous instance of a singular object or actor. In this case, Twilight. Paraphrasing, this sentence says that Twilight turned around to see her parents gone, and that Twilight was standing by the wall. The word choice really befuddles not only the meaning, but the structure of the sentence entirely. The plural past tense “were” will correctly refer to Twilight’s parents as a joint unit, instead of Twilight herself.
>She made a deep sigh.
Once again, I’ll be looking at the root word here. The root of “made” is “make,” verb, which has a good twenty or thirty meanings. Most of them all deal with the context of causing something to come into existence, or causing a particular course of events to transpire. You could “make someone sigh,” but you couldn’t “make a sigh.” I’m sure someone will contest me on that, but it’s a reaction to something, an emote. Not an action. In the same vein, you wouldn’t “make a smile,” or “make a helping hand.” Emotes are more generally supported by the root word “give.”
Most of these them could have been resolved with a quick self-edit. Always take a little time off once you complete a work, let it cool, let your mind recover, then read over it with fresh eyes. You’d be surprised the kinds of errors you’ll find yourself. Also, if you have the privacy for it, try reading passages aloud. Verbalizing your story will point out the flaws in syntax better than anything else, in my opinion.
There are some other minor issues, as well. Brush up on your punctuation. Commas, semi colons, hyphens, quotations marks (especially their use in terms of marking words as word, or setting aside words as word inside of quotes). There was an instance of double-indention that I’d whack you with a ruler if you were within range for. But it’s mostly the artifact words and the pronouns you need to work on.In the category of stylistic performance:
This was your weakest area, the three categories breaking down into ratios of five, seven, three. Grammar was five, just so you know. I won’t have much to talk about in Story. Much of your difficulty here, I believe, stems from what I covered before – artifact words. These artifacts don’t break your syntax as they did before, but they cause issues in maintaining clarity, and developing a healthy pace and sense of tension for your story. Nearly half the comments in this category stem from this issue. Unfortunately, they aren’t as easily spotted as purely artifact or missing words. You have to develope a sense for what you intend, and what’s actually being said, as well as how efficiently its being said. Efficiency is the key here.
>She read about all sorts of amazing things unicorns could do[…]
This phrase is indicative of something I’ve seen quite a bit of. I don’t really have a proper name for it, but I’ve been calling it cases of “he said this, she did that.” It’s very easy to fall into the trap of beginning sentences with actors. Some authors do it almost exclusively, causing deep repetition, and it drives me mad when they do. Every opportunity you get, try to lift the focus off the protagonist and explore their environment some. Don’t make everything
>She heard the sound of a door creaking from behind her back,[…]
Here’s another instance of the same sort of thing, and another opportunity to avoid it. This phrase has the weight of additional baggage though. Sensory input phrases like this remove your reader from their immersion. It’s no longer a story about the protagonist and
the events around them. It’s just about the protagonist, what they heard, felt, said, thought, etc. There aren’t many instances of this in your work, but by removing them – and steering away from them in the future – not only do you cut down on word count, but the reader gains a degree of intimacy with whatever character you’re following at the moment. It doesn’t become a matter of the protagonist registering things and reacting to them. Things just happen.
>While struggling to rise back up, she could practically feel the taste in her mouth—the taste of failure.
There are a few instances of your word choice disrupting what you intend, but still conveying it. For example, this phrase just sounds silly, even more-so out of context, but it still does – functionally – what you meant for it to do. It’s very easy to break the tension in a story with wordplay that doesn’t belong or match, and this particular phrase seems overly melodramatic, or downright comical, in a scene that is supposed to be tragic. This is more difficult to suss out on your own, as what sounds dramatic to you may sound silly to someone else. It’s something that takes practice and often a second set of eyes, because what we write often isn’t what we intended to write. In your head, it makes perfect sense, but the reader doesn’t have that privilege.
You’ve got another scene later on that’s nearly verbatim for the show’s representation of Twilight earning her cutie-mark. You gloss over it and quite a bit else, and – to me – it wrecks the established drama of the scene. There’s almost no emotion in your retelling of events. On top of that, it feels very out of place with the writing style you’ve established. Your events are pretty heavily fleshed out, and you just kind of ride right over this like it isn’t important. Just because it’s canon to the show – or at least runs parallel to the show’s canon – doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t give the scene the same level of attention and detail that you’ve been giving so far. Which is quite a bit, I should mention.
>Twilight looked at him as if he'd grown a third head.
Try to avoid informal (or in the other direction, technical) word choices like this. That includes any kind of turn of phrase or cliche. It’s fine if a character is making the reference in dialogue. It becomes part of their character. But most of the time, when used in the narrative, the only reader they make sense to is you. Worse yet, they often have some unintended consequences for those readers who don’t understand.
In a similar vein, jargon and technical speech should be avoided, as well. Not everyone is going to understand what it means, and it can lead to confusion. Just as with informal speech, though, don’t be afraid to have a character use jargon. Even more so if it makes other characters confused. It can help develop a character’s characterization in many ways, and it can help the readers relate to those characters who don’t understand. When used in the narrative, though, it’ll just distance the readers from their immersion, as well as their suspension of disbelief if you use the jargon or technical speech incorrectly.
>"I promise," he responded
You use quite a few said-isms – that is, words that equivalently mean “said.” Most of these words, “respond,” “reply,” “retort,” “answer,” “continued,” “mentioned,” they all have very particular meanings. Overuse of them tends to make your writing feel presumptuous, and is either going to distract your readers from the actual dialogue being presented as they try and sort out exactly what the said-ism is meant to intend, or it’s going to shut them down entirely. Meanwhile, there’s this wonderful pair of words that are nearly invisible to the reader; “said” and “ask.” No one pays them any mind, as they tag dialogue very quickly and efficiently, and then make themselves scarce so as to not distract the reader. If you have an intent of subtext, use a said-ism, but otherwise avoid them unless you have a very good reason.http://rachelstarrthomson.blogspot.com/2008/06/writing-tips-amazing-invisible-word.html
In addition to that, you’re using said-isms to try and break up your dialogue blocks – with good intent. But like “said” itself, said-isms don’t actually deliver any kind of change to the scene, so they’re useless in that regard. They’re still, more or less, part of the dialogue. Instead of having your characters emote themselves during a conversation, you colorfully tag their dialogue, often times when it isn’t even needed. This is generally referred to as Talking Head Syndrome
, and your work has a couple instances of it. Often times, it seems the only character who’s capable of emoting herself is Twilight. The characters around her may as well be portraits. For most casual conversations, most people tend to do something to idle away the time. Fiddle with a cup, or a pencil or something innocuous. Walk toward a destination together. Cook or clean. Even outside of the odd need to manipulate something with our fingers, people say a lot with their body language. They can express sarcasm, shock, adoration, fear, any range of emotions or intents with subtle shifts of their brow alone, let alone the rest of their body. A person can mark themselves as defensive or open depending on the placement of their hands or feet, or how they lean in a chair. Away or toward? Even where their eyes are can say a lot about how a person feels or what they’re thinking. Ponies are no different.In the category of story and character progression:
Finally, we can get to the juicy bits. Your story, and in particular this second chapter, keeps itself going quite well in spite of its most grievous flaw – it’s basically an expansion of Twilight’s cutie-mark story from the show. I know you have vast and far reaching plans to go well beyond that, but at the moment, that’s what it is. Twilight goes to the Summer Sun Celebration, is inspired by the magic used there, devotes herself to its study, gets enrolled into *murbleburble’s* School for Gifted Unicorns, has to pass a test, stuff blows up in the sky, and Twilight taps her inner archmage. Boiled down to its core components, you’re telling Twilight’s cutie-mark story at the moment. Which is not necessarily a bad thing
. You’ve gone into much more detail, explaining this alternate world and its similarities to the canon all of your readers are going to be familiar with. But when compared to chapter one, there isn’t as much variance in events. Chapter two runs strictly parallel to canon, save for one small caveat – Princess Celestia has been replaced by Her Royal Majesty Princess Guinemare Platinum, the serene celestial. I think I got all her titles. But that’s all you did; you replaced an actor in the script. She even has “Celestial” as part of her title.
Comparatively, your chapter one had much more going on for it, in spite of suffering from the same problem of paralleling canon events. Twilight goes to the Summer Sun Celebration, sees the sun raised, and gets interested in magic. But you throw in enough other elements to make the retelling into something unique. Elements such as The Magnificent Madame Mirage, I believe her name was, and including Shining Armor into the story where previously he had been absent. It was also necessary for your story to establish some other differences between itself and canon. It made for a compelling read, despite being a rehash of events. This chapter doesn’t have that. Nothing new has been introduced. The events are new to your story
, but not to the story that your readers are going to be familiar with. Your work is a bit of an oddball in that it’ll be running parallel to canon for a little bit, and in that I have something else of yours that I worked on to compare and contrast it to. That said, I feel you could do more with the plot of the story at this point.
I don’t want to put words in your mouth in that regard. However, you’re always free to ask me to divulge any of my ideas I had for your work. I don’t want to intrude into your creative process without your consent.
That said, it goes without saying that the pacing of this chapter is considerably more off-kilter than the previous chapter. A small scene happens, skip forward, another small scene, skip forward. Not a lot happens that I wasn’t aware was going to happen, and it happens at such a sped up pace that I feel both bored and lost at the same time. I’d say that you seem eager to proceed past this part of the story, if not for the solid page of exposition about the castle gardens. While beautifully done, it didn’t contribute much to your story. Nothing actually happened there, and the scene took place between two others that seemed time sensitive. I know that Twilight is a young filly and prone to stop and look at pretty things, and that’s all well and good, but not when she has somewhere to be within a specified time, and not after a solid month and some change studying for that event. I’d think the girl would have blinders on, trying to pass those tests, after all the effort she put into it.
As for characters. Their actions and motivations line up pretty squarely with the established canon of those characters. There hasn’t been much of an opportunity for you to branch characters away from their established backgrounds yet. However, something that bothered me about… nearly all of your characters, is their mannerisms. The way the talk, the way the act, none of them felt truly polished. They felt like… well, like actors playing a part they didn’t fully understand yet. Twilight and Shining are both too well spoken for how underspoken their parents are. Their parents feel very underspoken, though I’m not sure if that’s a byproduct of them always speaking to or around Twilight. From what I understand, they’re all supposed to be reasonably well off, Twilight’s parents being influential moon-movers, but they don’t seem it. And there’s so little explained about them, their life, and their lifestyle. We don’t (or aren’t supposed to) even know their names yet. They’re very flat, two-dimensional characters.
Your portrayal of the Lord Minister and the Duke also strikes an off-key. Again, their motivations and actions and spot on. In particular, I like the little touches like the Duke’s obstinate attitude toward, well, everyone. He strikes me as a real bastard to have to deal with. But there are some inconsistencies in his dialogue that make him read like a Disney villain. As though this is his first day on the job cavorting and conspiring behind ponies’ backs. Because everyone knows he is. That’s a good trait. The Disney villain part, not so much. You need to be more consistent, and more established with the speech and mannerisms of your characters. It’s especially important for stories that have any kind of stratified castes. How the classes speak will mark them and those who speak like them as that class. How the classes speak to each other is also important. You’ve got that in mind already with the Duke and the Lord Minister. The Duke does not
like the Lord Minister or any of his ilk, and it’s obvious in the way he speaks. Conversely, the Duke is all bows and apologies to HRH Guinemare, when he’s not complaining about something to her, at any rate. But the exact vernacular of the Duke and Lord Minister feel off.
All in all, a vast improvement over your previous work I covered, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement. Carve out the slower portions of your chapter, like the garden scene, and mold out more from other scenes, or introduce some new scenes altogether. Get inside your characters’ heads and really make them stand out from one another, and to your readers. Your story needs something to set it apart from the established canon, like it did in chapter one.
Keep reading. Keep writing~