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Diana Gill – Editorial Letter
PIRATEABA “Interlude: Pisces” edit
Thanks for your patience on this, along with my sincere apologies for the delay. As mentioned, it’s a tricky chapter, and I wanted to make sure I had the best possible suggestions for it, but I am still far later with it than I prefer, so thank you.
To recap, I read the chapter cold without having read the previous chapters, etc., so that I could go in as a brand-new reader just discovering the series. Then after my initial notes I went back and read the chapter before, etc. before the second pass.
As you noted, this was a tricky chapter, with some great, vivid scenes, and then also some very tough, vivid scenes…. So a bit tricky to read, but also fast-paced and well-contained as its own storyline, which is always great for readers (esp. new readers—and editors!—just coming to the Inn for the first time…). =)
I loved how this was readable and enjoyable without strong prior knowledge of the saga, and greatly enjoyed Pisces’ story arc (ESP. once it was clear it was not going to be the worst possible ending options…. And there are some great scenes in it too—I particularly liked Eloque and the jars, which is a great mix of hope and horror. The jars and the creatures reminded me a little of the creepiness of H. Rider Haggard’s SHE—well done! =)
I also loved the ending with the Death of Chains—after the trials and turmoil this was great and almost cathartic, especially leading to Pisces’ own evolution and fantastic end scene…. Speaking of Pisces, I really liked how you took a self-involved somewhat shallow character and made him grow here as well.
Overall, my edit notes are first to make this interlude the best it can possibly be as its own beast. Beyond that, I wanted to look at options the goal of keeping the heart of the story but also keeping readers (given the early reader reactions to the chapters)… Please note that these are only my suggestions—if you have other ideas for how to achieve the same goals, that is completely fine with me and I’m happy to discuss them, etc. (This is, of course, your story, not mine, and my job is to be a new, informed set of eyes to help you make it as strong as possible.
Diving directly into the tough parts—this is a tough chapter, as the trigger warning indicates, but I think there are ways of keeping it equally hard-hitting emotionally and viscerally, but also less graphically and ideally less fuel for content warnings….
For the biggest part of my editorial concerns, what I’d love to do/what I suggest is to refocus the Pisces’ intended corruption so that the abuse is more magical than physical rape.
I.e., what if instead of focusing on the rapes as a way to break Pisces, the goal of breaking Pisces is actually more about getting him to pervert his magic for evil. So they are trying to bring him to the dark side to gain power, not just destroy his character. This gives them more motivation beyond just being corrupted, and develops them a bit further (this can work into their continuing perversion and downfall as well…)
You’ve already started this with Riqre wanting to change Pisces’s Class, so it’s more about refocusing the mechanism (aka the rapes) to focus more on the key parts than torturing the secondary characters. We’ve already got hints of that with Riqre, so use that.
For ex, show a bit more of the stitching with Eloque earlier in the chapter to foreshadow (see also the notes in re Eloque below). Then have Riqre expand upon his hints of changing Classes and have him try to get Pisces to use his magic for
Riqre’s corrupted intentions—both to break Pisces/bring him to the dark side, and for more power and perverted armies to use…
You could even bring the book in as part of this—they think they can use that and some other arcane knowledge to channel something so that Pisces can start affecting living beings with his necromancy—almost infecting them (sort of like the zombies, etc.). This also can tie into the djinn—having them trying to use the book could be the signal that summons Azam’s sister and ultimately destroys the [Slavers]. So their own hubris creates their downful.
And, too, this becomes a stronger and more interesting challenge for Pisces—women being fridged to provide the male hero’s motivation has gotten fairly tired (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_Refrigerators)–so this avoids that cliché in favor of a stronger, creepier temptation that’s even more insidious.
So they want to turn Pisces to their side so he’ll use his Necromancy for them before he goes to the Naga, etc. Izgheriz for fun b/c insanity but Riqre for real because power…. Expanding further this could also be why the Naga wants him as well—they could even potentially have brokered a side deal with him, which then makes R’s interference that much worse too….
You’ve set up some of Pisces’ backstory and origin story well with the flashbacks here (and perhaps elsewhere previously as well?), and now this is his crucible—focusing on the magic as ruination instead will be that much stronger and add even more resonance to his choice and actions at the end of the chapter as well as in the flashbacks. It will also make the chapter a little easier to read for many readers…
This is my biggest editorial suggestion. Beyond that I’d also suggest a couple more things to make this that much more effective, both related:
Show versus tell—this is a tricky balance, especially in a chapter like this with a lot of heavy, difficult content. However, I did feel at times the show-versus-tell emphasis is off, so I’d like to show a bit more on the magical side and the horrors and how trapped they are, and less on the abuse, etc.
The best place to show the dread and just how trapped they are is this with Azam given the endgame–once they have reached Riqre’s stronghold—starting around p. 48. The references to breaking Azam feel a bit too opaque—we need to see more here to really feel/believe that Pisces et al. are trapped, without options. We’re being told here, and we need to feel how helpless Pisces is to stop all of this….
That will also let you help foreshadow and ground his sister’s appearance at the end as well (show that Riqre can break Azam, etc.). Speaking of, what causes the Death of Chains to appear? We don’t see anything in the text that signals it—perhaps when we see more of Riqre threatening Azam (or actually starting to change him) that could be some sort of signal or omen that draws her?
This doesn’t mean going more graphic overall—I actually want to suggest more than show the abuse/torture/etc. in general–but so we truly feel the helplessness versus hearing it. If we see someone—I’d suggest Shein, both because of the fridging trope (see above), and because having the slave masters change another adventurer also reinforces what they could do to Pisces himself–being Stitched earlier, and then Azam being threatened in Riqre’s fortress, that will show just how wrong the Slavemasters are, and drive in the terrible situation Pisces is in.
Otherwise, if it is Eloque or Cawe potentially being stitched/attacked by Pisces’ magic, use the scenes before the assaults to show Pisces connecting/communicating with the women, to help foreshadow the attempted escape and the dramatic finale…
Beyond that, you do a great job with building up and then destroying Pisces’ hope, but I think it will be that much more effective if we tighten and streamline it a bit.
When reading the first time I was expecting that Pisces was going to cave at the end, hence the several peaks of hope it felt like the end was going to be extremely bleak… So I was –very- delighted that was not actually the case (yay!).
Given that, I do think we can tighten this some to streamline the chapter and tighten the interlude. So rather than several times where Pisces is told to be horrible and resists/several occasions where he thinks he’s going to escape and then fails we drive home the horror early, and focus the hope/lost hope cycle more clearly and strongly and tightly…
(This will also make a bit easier for the readers/less chance of driving some away too. <g>)
On the smaller side, it would be great to foreshadow Cawe and the keys a bit more clearly—it’s a very neat storyline that shows Pisces’ personality & resourcefulness, etc., but currently feels a bit too out of the blue. A few lines of foreshadowing will help set that up—you don’t have to spoil the reveal, but a line or two will let the reader go ‘AHA’ when they find out.
Similarly we don’t have Eloque’s POV anywhere else besides the jar scene in the interlude, so it would be great to have a couple more sentences showing her a bit more before this scene to make it that much more evocative. Perhaps through Pisces’ eyes, given the escape tk (to come—aka the Best publishing acronym of them all)…
These are my overall notes and suggestions. A few general writing notes are below, and I’ve annotated and line-edited the manuscript as well.
General writing notes:
- Watch the sentence fragments. Used sparingly, they have a lot of impact. But used frequently they break up the narrative and make it choppy and awkward, so in general it’s best to keep them for key emphasis points rather than use continually (same goes for rhetorical questions).
- Punctuation goes inside quotation marks/parentheses, e.g., xyz,” not xyz”.
- The [classes] took a second to parse, but then worked well.
- Use the active tense as much as possible versus passive—passive slows the narrative, and can fall back into the telling trap as well
- Similarly, watch for inverting the usual subject-verb-object sentence order too frequently. Like sentence fragments this should be used sparingly for emphasis (used too frequently and you can start to sound like Yoda)
Of course, my comments and suggestions are purely to help make this interlude the best chapter it can finally be.
I’m more than happy to discuss these notes and your ideas and brainstorm, etc.–once you’re back from vacation (NOT before!!!) and have had the time to read this and think it through (put my name on a dartboard, etc.,), of course.
All best wishes,
Diana Gill Editorial