Author Topic: Survival Guide III  (Read 14701 times)

Chak Ku'rill

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Re: Survival Guide III
« Reply #195 on: May 14, 2016, 03:58:33 PM »
Ahoy thar, Matra! Thought I'd give ye some feedback on yer feedback, har har!

First, thankee fer the review o' Reedox Redux. I know it were a long one, but I'm glad ye enjoyed readin' it as I did writin' it. It went through a lot o' changes ta get whar it be now.

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For such a strict guard corps why isn't there a measure or two of soldiers on his rump? Especially after: showing up out of nowhere, seeing Bo right before the fall, getting cheeky during the test, cutting his mom's face open, AND leaving soon after the fall. I'm no cop but that screams "Stop that squirrel!"

First, everyone agrees it be either an accident er suicide attempt - neither o' which be needin' a perpetrator. Certainly it be apparent that Reedox's appearance be contributin'. Everyone be knowin' Bo be guilty o' abandonin' 'is unit, so t'ain't a big shock that 'e reacts badly when Reedox be showin' up. They assume 'e's guilt-ridden. An' thanks ta Antolle, the Guard don' 'zactly 'ave the mos' charitable view o' Bo either. Tabitha be the only one who be outright blamin' Reedox, an' she be kinda on 'er own since Marcy wouldn't be agreein'. Marcy were the one who were askin' 'im ta talk ta Bo, so she won' want ta believe that were the cause. Otherwise she's as much ta blame.

As fer gettin' cheeky durin' the test - the Guard jus' wants Reedox ta go away. They ain't so innerested in drivin' 'im away as much as 'opin' 'e'll go away on 'is own if they ignore 'im enough. 'E's a bit o' an embarrassment, ye see. They don' want 'im representin' 'em, yet Reedox be 'avin' enough 'istory wi' the Chief an' elder soldiers they don' want ter outright throw 'im out either.

An' as fer Reedox 'urtin' 'is mum, no one be knowin' 'bout that. Certainly 'is mum won' be advertisin' it aroun' town.

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Same goes on a lesser level with Chak's imprisonment. The beast admits his slaving ways, but it's somehow all on the mouse family to decide whether he's brought to justice or not? Who are the guards under? Would make sense if the mice run the town - which is a safe assumption given their wealth - and perhaps I missed the telling line.

In Fariby, the Pronele's do 'ave a lot o' clout. It ain't zactly a democracy, after all. Chak actually be 'eld on their request wi'out explanation (more...on suspicion - kinda like 'e could be a "flight risk") until they be figurin' out more. In this case, they jus' be decidin' whuther they want ter prosecute 'im er not. Thar is a legal system, but it ain't modern-day. Fariby be "fairer" (har har) than most though, I'd say, as thar be an actual effort ta 'elp reform criminals thar. P'raps I coulda shoulda implied this more.

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the heavy Reedox intro in the third-to-last section

As I still be finishin' up the last epilogue I gotta say - transitional paragraphs atwix different sections o' story be the mos' difficult fer me. Not sure why. Sorry this'n failed fer ye - mayhaps we should talk more about why an' 'ow it mighta been 'andled differently. 'Specially might be useful as I be writin' a similar transition right now...

Glad ye feel better connected ta Reedox an' that 'is character's solidified. Fer focusin' on 'im so much in this epilogue, it be surprisin'ly tough includin' 'im in the last epilogue as the focus pulls back ta Chak again. 'Cause 'e's thar, but 'e be remainin' a bit o' a third wheel...
« Last Edit: May 14, 2016, 04:00:36 PM by Chak Ku'rill »

Matra Hammer

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Re: Survival Guide III
« Reply #196 on: July 28, 2016, 01:37:39 AM »
Third and final reflection for Chak's tripled epilogue. There's a ton of material in the final installment so I won't touch on every device, scene, and so on, throughout. For simplicity's sake I'll split my thoughts into subheaded paragraphs.

The Cottage
by Chak Ku'rill

...the cottage

The author uses Rosequill Manor as a central point all of Chak's events swing around. This works in their favor on one paw with the cottage and the Rosequills as a story constant Chak grows against - we're familiar with the surroundings so when there's a slightest change it's noticed. Normally I'd complain about everything important happening off screen. "They got married!? Howwhywhere? He hit her!? Howwhywhere?" But on the practical front this is how the static backdrop works in the author's favor. Sure, we're missing out on direct contact, but the resulting emotional/mental/social toil for Chak and Co is interesting enough, and the static setting is charming enough, to keep us rolling along. The inviting, familiar backdrop makes the shapeshifting foreground players all the more interesting.


The Introduction

I'm a huge fan of the introduction section (from "Six weeks..." to "Even Plink...") in terms of tone alone. Gave me a real warm, story-teller's vibe which reminded me of the Redwall television series when Jacques would read a bit before or after episodes. Makes me wanna toy around with distant, third-party narrator. However, the whole lot of it is completely and entirely redundant. Every shred of information is mirrored in the coming action, from seeing the chaos Chak introduces to the Rosequills, to recapping Chak's slave forgiveness journey and the Dead Rock ordeal. I'd recommend a place to cut in instead, but there's an odd organizational pull between -the longest week-, the ***** break, and open-handed lines like "it was nice to feel..." The best I can offer is starting a read from "Confined in the small house..." which sacrifices very little and makes for a gripping read.


Violet Rosequill

Probably my new favorite character - would love seeing a Violet prequel. Didn't reread my previous reviews, but I remember labeling the hogwife as nothing more than a mouthpiece...which is probably why she's married to Robert (ooooohhh...) Anywho, in this piece she comes off as a fully-identified being. Sure, she's the trope of an Iron Mother who has her kingdom on lock, and her snark on high, but we get a good feel for who she is, where she came from (tavern past,) and what she holds dear...besides the Rosequill tradition of FAMILYFAMILYFAMILY. This is another credit to the static environment. Makes less boisterous characters, and NPCs, stand out a lot more. On the other paw Robert annoyed the hell out of me throughout. I think it was because he had all the answers all the time. Never lost his head like Violet (even when punching Chak,) or jumped to conclusions, or showed weakness besides his minor disdain for the compass gift.


The Plink Setup

At the very start the author goes out of their way to identify Plink as a creature on Chak's level socially. They're both out of place, both adjusting in a clean and polite world free of killing, and they're both inherently on the fringe as a slave driver and vermin. So it makes sense drawing a parallel between them as the author does in the first section. But there's no payoff. A hint comes around when Salina shows up for the big party and Plink forces herself into a polite conversation. But that's it. That's the payoff. She cracks a dark joke about how lucky Salina is that she can spend her life singing while others toil away doing something they hate. What is this telling us about Plink? We know from her tale of the arson, the law breaking, but here? Not so much. We don't need a Plink-specific section, but if you're gonna set up the parallel then include a worthy payoff that benefits both characters. As it stands all we see is "Chak made it out better because he tried for a bond, unlike Plink who stayed quiet," but this is inferred and not earned.


King D Supreme

The champion of this entire post is the dialog. Seriously laughed out loud at many different points, often when Chak misinterprets a direction or Violet starts swinging her weight around. In life comedic timing isn't something you can out and out teach, but in writing there are a few tricks which makes dialog pop. One thing the author does a lot is add a bit of dialog attribution before the punchlines after a string of back-and-forth dialog. Here's a short example:

“Monogo-what?”

Violet threw her paws in the air. “He’s doomed.”

A short, dumb statement from Chak followed up by an over-elaborate flourish and exclamation from Violet. On an elemental level the short against the long grabs our attention. On a techincally level the lack of attribution for Chak forces us to place the otter ourselves, and mentally see his confusion through the "monogo-what?" only to be slapped by the direct flailing of Violet. This seems like stupid, but if you went through the whole piece and took out the attribution then a LOT of the punch dies away. This is exactly why I harp on people who use stuff like this:

"I hate his reviews," Chak grumbled.

"Us too," everyone cheered as they lit their torches and gazed out the window with their eyes like pools of ink in the dark and stormy night (ugh made me sick even typing that out.) "Burn the reviewer!"

If you're gonna tell a reader how they should feel about a line then make sure it's a moment of climax, and with minimal, direct language earned through the piece's tempo. Which this author does for the most part.


The Longest Party

As the tin reads. The "Tying the Knot" section is entirely too long for what it accomplishes. Every read through I lost steam at around the same point, and it's around when Bo is introduced and the whole "ruh roh, she's not drinking" comes up. A lot of the bits in the scene are important: making Salina real by seeing her interact, pieces of Chak's past (Vera, Hylan, Plink, Rob) facing the now-clean(er)/kind(er) otter, a high moment of levity before the counter punch of the next section. But why is Bo there and why does he deserve space? Why do we need an update from Reedox about pirate protection? I'm on the border with Hylan since he's important enough, but if you took his part out then nothing changes since we see enough of how Chak handles children through Maribel. The whole "Fuuuuhk!" bit is silly and fun, but it reads as a joke for a joke's sake. And there's almost no conflict which hints at the following wife beater scene. Part of making Salina the character real is seeing what she's good at, which we do in spades, but replacing a bit of the frivolous merrymaking with a spot of tension, or a Salina slip up, would've made the next piece all the more real.

Oddly enough, through all my notes, I didn't have much worth saying about "Rocky Road" as a section. It's well balanced, the tension is mostly earned since, up until now, Chak has been on a winning streak, and the resolution is mostly realistic. Perhaps this is a fault in Salina that she's letting Chak off so easy...


Maribel the Metronome

The little one is really in the background even if she literally stands up and sings a few times. This is fine. This isn't Maribel's tale; this is Chak's story. But when Maribel does pop up it's always at wonderful, pace-managing moments. It's not an accident that a few scenes fade in or out with one of her cute little songs. And on the whole we see a lot of what Chak is and what he stands to gain or lose through Maribel's marginal development. The bung hole and dismemberment jokes come to mind. Part of me wonders if Violet is more upset that Chak can teach her daughter things she cannot than the whole "dirty" language portion. Anywho, the little pin cushion is a bit shallow as a whole, but I lover her caring, simple nature, her spot of intelligence, and the way she helps smooth over a lot of the rough emotional edges this piece covers.


The End

Not a fan of the ending. We spend the whole epilogue watching Chak struggle through his various relationship and social challenges. In the second-to-last section Rob sets up the "you gotta talk to her, Chak. You gotta tell her how you feel about the baby." Then we smash cut to "GIRL." Did Chak learn his lesson? Are we supposed to go off of the wonderful picture? There's no Salina in the picture, and our reformed otter looks all sorts of concerned...did he keep everything inside...did he tell Salina how he felt...did Salina die giving birth!? It's okay not to see things and infer, but not when the purpose of the entire epilogue is finding out whether or not Chak can change. He does change a bit throughout, but this is the big final challenge.

Though, there's the other side of the argument in a simple question "What do you think happened?" Which is a fair question. Maybe the author wanted us to soak in all the development in the epilogue and decide on our own. A fun prospect. Hmm. In my mind Chak - without Rob's direct guidance - doesn't tell the whole truth. He lays out his fears for Salina, and then when the mutant pops out (probably before his eyes on a boat in the middle of nowhere) he does a complete regression. He's constantly terrified of dropping the fluffball, and has to remind himself every day about what Rob said concerning the fortitude of women folk. Chak and Salina fight a lot in those early days since, for once, Chak is truly scared. But over time - with every diaper changed and crying fit settled via holding - Chak raises a right and proper daddy's girl.

...and then he breaks the legs of the first young otter who eyes his deep sea treasure.

Hmm. Maybe the ending isn't so bad afterall if I can drum up such a quick and probable bit of fan fiction.
When kings upon the main have clung to pride
And held themselves as masters of the sea
I've held them down beneath the crushing tide
Till they have learned that no one masters me

Matra Hammer

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Re: Survival Guide III
« Reply #197 on: January 28, 2017, 04:28:25 AM »
Very strange stuff typing in this box again. We all know each other a lot better than when the contest ended so long ago. Reviewing feels like putting on a very old coat and finding a 10 spot in the pocket.

Anywho, gonna hit this beast with the triple decker: three criticisms and three highlights. There's simply too much material for a full, reflection-style review where I tell pointless stories and/or ram in some dated pop-culture reference. If you've any comments, concerns, or questions then drop a line here and I'll respond as best I can.

Ever onward.

~*~

Toy Soldier
by Airan

Brother Sage

We'll talk a lot about characterization as the review goes on, so starting with Brother Sage and how he works well makes sense. Our sneak mouse is a well-crafted character who is made real and powerful in a very small space thanks to a few critical devices. The first: the author makes sure we know exactly what's important to Sage and why - the beast says "My business lies in knowledge." but there are also many other examples of him declaring his love of beast equality and critical thinking. The second: we're clued in on Sage's depth and power by what's not said. Take a look at Sage's reaction in The Seven Stars and when Cyril out-and-out accuses him of pirate spying. Every question Cyril asks is met with an effective generalization, distraction, or outright intimidation...but Sage never provides concrete evidence against Cyril's accusations, only red herrings and false equivalencies. The third:  the elemental building block of audience connection through mutual habits. We all eat and drink so watching a character nosh - and make basic choices on what they will or will not partake in - brings us closer. Seems a silly point, but culture is built on belief, entertainment, and food. There's no deeper meaning to a beast who selects grayling over soup (though there could be,) but engaging all of our senses - the steam of the fish, the spice of the soup, the quality of the October Ale - fortifies the character and scene tenfold.

Cyril Hagglethrump

On the flip side? Cyril is an unworthy hero I'd difficulty believing in and/or following across multiple readthroughs despite all of his conflicts and choices. Conflict reinforces character, yes? However, conflict doesn't create character. Throughout the entire epilogue Cyril confronts multiple challenges along the same line: follow your duty, follow your heart, or wither and stagnate in indecision? He fails every single one and, as the epilogue points out, does nothing. Failure is a wonderful motivator but not when we know nothing and feel nothing for the character. As a point: tell me about Maria. Cyril's fiance, right? How did they meet? Why are they getting married? What do they love about each other? Also, what does Cyril love besides his family? We know a lot of what he can't do, but what is he good at? Why does he want to "protect people?" Little bits like the trophies at the end, picking hotroot soup for a meal, and how he considers his mother's tattoos are all good, but we needed so much more before the developing conflicts rained down. We needed reasons to trust and understand our guide on the tour of MOIII's aftermath. The easy counters are "Well, this is more about the world than Cyril" or "he'll get his redemption in the next part!" but there's a reason plating counts in restaurant reviews. The best hamburger in the world (epilogue's world building) isn't as appetizing if it's served on an ungarnished and plain white plate (Cyril.)

Themes

This is me fanboying for a little bit, so bear with me. How cool are the thematic turns of this epilogue? Seriously, so many important truths are addressed throughout the ballad of Cyril Hagglethrump. An important theme is one I hope we all hold close: the power of storytelling to change the world. I did not expect or suspect Gintrap's importance rested in his storytelling profession, but it makes perfect sense given the lingering threat at the end of MOIII: "Blade is a concept and not a person; Blade will return as another." No real point other than "Wow, what an original, expectation-defeating turn I enjoyed reading." The other theme I appreciate is how death is more a beginning than an end. I think Rhoda's demise was poorly incorporated (lack of development of Cyril, a clear turning point for turning point's sake over a natural and earned moment) but we don't get a block of hard lament. Instead we get fuel for an otherwise inactive character to push onward and enact some heroic nonsense. And this works again and again throughout. As the death of the waitress' mate spurred her towards an unnatural, fearful life, as the death of Blade spurned on the resurgence of piracy, and so on. And though I readily complain about Cyril, his struggles in waking up from his copy/paste life is the most grasping theme of all. The Redwall series at its core is all about making the extraordinary from the ordinary (Martin) so seeing a stereotype hare (sans accent) wake up from his Salamandastron daze is wonderful.

The Interviews

There are six complete scenes if you don't count the short introduction. All but two of these scenes are two or more beasts sitting and talking about the world at large. No action, no paws-on involvement, just two speakers telling the audience what they should know. I talked a lot about The Interview in the application phase. It's a tried and true method of working necessary information into a story with the added kick of minor character involvement (they can express opinions, give reactions, etc.) However, The Interview is a device an author should use sparingly or not at all. Craftwise this the same as passive voice. Sure, the sentence still imparts information, but the reader loses out because we're inflicted with another layer of distance - the first being it's fiction, the second in characters talking about cool stuff off screen. The author knows the fix and employs it very well in the tavern scene through the nervous waitress. Through her nervousness, through Sage's prompting, the audience can experience and empathize with the conflict instead of assigning our own meaning to the information at large. Compare The Seven Stars to Gintrap's Blade info dump. Both contain excellent, worthy information which opens up the world and instills intrigue, but in the jail cell we can't experience any of the gravity like we did with the waitress.

The World

My two favorite scenes are aboard the Shamshir and within The Seven Stars. Why? Because we finally get a hard look at vermin "reformed." Better put, we finally get a hard look at the hinge which swings the door of the MOIII world and conflict. The introductory paragraph is a nice touch which helps the reader resettle into the story, but a lingering hunger for evidence remains. Are vermin truly corrupt at their core, or are vermin beasts who're struggling to survive in a woodlander-gripped world? This is the question the introduction prompts - with its report on corrupt New Town bosses and so on - and this is the question those two scenes address. The answer? Yes, vermin are beasts truly scraping for a life. The presence of a Waverunner officer grips a tavern into tense silence, a waitress swallows memories of her dead mate to survive, a fox captain with a mostly legitimate business marshals his words with great effort, and (though not in those scenes) an elder rat drops some heavy-yet-simple truth ("But why would you ever want to create a beast like Blade?" Gintrap shrugged. "I was short on coin at the time an’ had a knack fer tellin’ tall tales, simple as that.) on an unprepared rabbit. The whole debacle makes you wonder what "killing" Blade and Dead Rock truly accomplished. More on the nose, it makes me wonder what other atrocities occur when beasts follow a leader's edict without question. Whoops ~ maybe a little too current and political, but in this world it's a valid question. Anywho, I'm glad the author is tackling these big questions from multiple angles instead of pulling some blunt Hollywood nonsense, like, I dunno, Cyril is torn between Maria and a comely marten who teaches him the true meaning of vermin Christmas, or whatever.

Emphasis

"Cyril looked at his plate. He had lost his appetite."
"As always, Cyril had stayed silent. As always, he had done nothing."
"Sage was right. It was time to act, but first, Cyril needed answers."
"He pushed himself off the wall firmly. His mother didn’t need to know. She didn’t need to know anything."
"He’d have to keep watch tonight to maintain his lie, but it would give him time. Time to think."
"He began to write."
Here are the last sentences for each scene. One demerit for all the was, had, and to-be verbs, but this isn't why I brought them up. This epilogue is written with a third-person close narrator. They're omniscient, but they stick close and spell out most of Cyril's feelings. A narrator like this excuses a lot of the ham-fisted emotional inserts because it balances out an emotionally and/or socially stunted character. We cross a writing line when the narrator's voice explicitly manipulates the tone on its own. What I mean: all but two (the first and last) of the final lines read like somebeast putting on shades and walking away from an emotional explosion. This is a fine device when used sparingly - maybe once at a critical climax, or as the closing note of a piece. When used four times for scene transitions, and when paired with a narrator who comments on the action and cast, the device's impact is muted. This habit of emphasis and reiteration makes for stilted reading on the pacing front. The counter argument is the language is natural and narrator appropriate, so the bombasticness is earned because it is consistent. My opinion: go all the way or not at all. A lot of this epilogue's shortcomings might've turned for the better if the narrator was strictly Cyril's mind/voice. Or, on the other end, clean up the commentary and leave a stark narration that begs a closer look at the action.
When kings upon the main have clung to pride
And held themselves as masters of the sea
I've held them down beneath the crushing tide
Till they have learned that no one masters me