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A Good Idea
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The Glimmer In The Silence
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If At First You Don't Succeed...
#17568 · 3
· on Bull-seye · >>Miller Minus
>>HiTime >>PaulAsaran >>Monokeras >>Filler >>Paracompact
Sorry for the somewhat late reply, everyone. Given the delay, I'll try to keep this response at least sort of brief.

First and foremost, the version of the story posted here ended up suffering from a very important omission – specifically, the last line ought to say "disguising the stolen ring". That "stolen" wouldn't fix everything, but it'd at least get rid of some of the accidentally-way-too-excessive vagueness, and in theory make it possible for the reader to actually interpret the doublespeak conversations properly. (If nothing else, I am tempted to take all the confusion as something of a half-win, since if the readers couldn't figure things out any eavesdroppers would presumably have an even harder time of things.)

>>PaulAsaran >>Filler >>Paracompact >>Monokeras >>Paracompact >>Monokeras
As for the title, that can pretty much be chalked up to the fact that it was literally a last-minute thing, since I totally forgot I was going to need one until I copied the story over for final proofing and submission. With about 55 seconds left I remembered the things the pope uses their signet ring to seal are called papal bulls, so I submitted the first play on that I came up with and then did the fastest search I could to see if there were any problems with it. Turns out that's a yes – the relevant part from which the edicts take that name, the seal itself, is actually called a bulla – but at that point I only had 11 seconds left, so I couldn't think of anything better to edit the title to before time ran out. (Incidentally, the reason the word "stolen" ended up omitted is that I thought of the title in the middle of reverting from trying out "pilfered", and in my haste to submit and double-check the title I neglected to actually restore the deleted "stolen".)

Also, is it possible to use proper formatting (italics/bold/size/color/smallcaps) in titles? I would've preferred to set off the "bull" with pretty much anything subtler than a dash, but I really did not want to risk it with virtually no time left.

>>Monokeras >>Filler
Do you think this is a case where a weaker hook would have made the story better? The usual advice is of course to make the hook as strong as possible, but obviously it's not good to set the reader up with an impression that's doomed to crash and burn.

>>Filler
(I also have no idea what "will" means at the very end.)

Think "he set to it with a will".
#16971 ·
· on A Good Idea · >>TitaniumDragon
Alright, with the results out and most or all of the likely comments in, time to respond! General stuff first, then individual replies. (And apologies for the length – this ended up being a bit longer than I'd expected or planned.)

To start, I'd like to thank everyone for the feedback, and particularly the parts that get into specifics and details. I knew going in that that was the only prize I had any remotely realistic hope of winning, and while it was perhaps not exactly pleasant to be proven right, I nevertheless appreciate it. Hopefully it'll help me get to the point that I can at least make the competition work for the prizes at some point down the line.

On that note, does anyone have a suggestion as to what tack I should take next? On one side, a natural choice would be to start with trying to fix this story up some – after all, it's not even to the point that I'd have felt comfortable sending it off to prereaders yet, but the deadline had a way of forcing the issue. On another, I could see it being more educational to jump into a new story instead, and save this one to maybe revisit at some point in the future.




The near-unanimous consensus that the pacing is too slow is definitely the issue I most expected to see brought up; as one might imagine, the repeated rereads I had to do to double-check various things quickly became something of a slog. I'm pretty sure that at least three or four full pages could stand to be cut, and quite a bit of material would probably benefit from being shifted around. Unfortunately, even if I'd had the time to do any significant trimming – let alone a second draft – I'm not sure it would have helped all that much, since I'm not confident I can actually tell the parts that need work from the parts that currently do work. If anything stood out enough either way that it immediately springs to mind, I'd be quite grateful to have it pointed out.

The need to explain things better is also not a surprise, considering that the solid majority of stuff I wanted to detail ended up only very vaguely hinted at or not making it in at all. In this specific case, the critical aspects of the feedback actually ended up being somewhat encouraging emotionally as well as intellectually, since pretty much every specific thing people have pointed out to me as needing elaboration is one I already wanted to include.

The big thing I didn't expect was people thinking this was supposed to be a comedy. After all, comedy is hard and I'm not going to be up to the challenge anytime soon, else there's a decent chance my first story would've been an attempt at the Comedy Is Serious Business contest instead. I simply figured it wouldn't hurt to at least try for a modicum of levity to keep the edge off the darker aspects of the story, and once the pacing problems became evident, I had to hope it'd also be enough to keep the story from being too much of a drag to read.

>>Kai_Creech
Glad to hear you enjoyed it!

>>Baal Bunny
First off, I have a horrible confession to make: I have not actually read Girl Genius. I've heard enough about it to know that I certainly want to, and if I'd come up with this story idea at the start of the contest rather than three weeks in I'd probably have used Research! as a transparent excuse to finally do so, but as-is I simply haven't been able to justify taking the chance to yet. The name Foglio Hall is actually just because they're who coined the genre term gaslamp fantasy, and everything else is simply drawing on general memories and stereotype rather than directly pulled from a specific source.

I agree the mixed-metaphor discussion (along with basically the whole of scene two) ought to be more like half the current length, but I honestly didn't plan for or expect it to be read as funny at all – it was merely intended to give a bit of initial characterization. But you're not the only one who's commented to that effect, so I suppose there may be something to it....

On chronology in general: that was basically an instinctive attempt to try and keep the timeline from being too ridiculously implausible. Naturally, it was only after the deadline had passed and I'd had the chance to recuperate for a couple of days that it occurred to me that hold on, given the way the magic works a ludicrously compressed timeline would actually be more appropriate. Oh well. At least it'd be an easy change to make, since there're only a handful of in-text references to specific days and weeks to line up with a new chronology.

Regarding how Calvin survived the month (and also part of why Susanne and Beatrix didn't catch him on a grocery run): that's one of the things I actually tried writing out but ultimately cut, since I felt that with just the limited number of Calvin sections I had the time to fit in it weakened the overall effect. Since that effect is one of the things I've been told worked well, I'm reasonably confident that while it might not have been the right choice, it at least wasn't a wrong one. But of course, that's no reason I can't copy over an example attempt here so you can decide for yourself:

[date] [~CB emergency food larder]

Calvin placed a last pair of cans from the nearly empty shelf into the bag he carried, then retrieved the pot of water with a shaky hand. Though the lost time pressed against him in a burning ache, failure to maintain his body would result in far greater losses as his strength flagged and his mind fogged.

He hurried his way back to his laboratory. A flick of the switch set the fabrication torch to blazing life, and as the water began to heat, a quick examination verified that the ventilation was still performing admirably. It would hardly do to lose time poisoning himself into insensibility.

A stray fragment of thought niggled at him, cautioning that depleting his supplies with such abandon was not the grandest of ideas, but he quieted it with a shake of his head. He would simply make sure to go purchase replacements once he’d watched his latest ideas to their completions.


Regarding the 14 September scenes: the intention was that the second one starts a short bit after the first, with the theory having been that the combination of Calvin and Susanne suddenly being a little way into food preparation and Susanne's comment about being really thrown for a loop would establish that it started a few minutes later, once she'd had a chance to get herself unstunned a bit. Obviously, that's something a prereader would probably flag as not sufficiently clear. It doesn't help that while all three characters get in a comment or question about someone coming back to earth, the speech patterns Calvin's affecting means his takes a completely different form from Susanne's and Beatrix's instances, so the repetition is of limited use in realizing his intended meaning.

On Beatrix's introduction: whoops.

The box is another thing I wanted to include more detail about, but given the already-slow pacing I figured it'd be better to hold off until after I'd had the chance to cut some stuff first, since I assumed people wouldn't care too much (and it's good to see that's not true!). Basically, Susanne wouldn't have any more reason to open the door for Absolutely No One than for Beatrix, so Beatrix needed something else to get her to actually do so. In theory she could've tried asking someone she ran into on the way to stand there until Susanne answered, but bringing a prop herself was both easier and more reliable. It's not ideal to only bring up the box once and then leave that thread hanging, but at least it's better than leaving people wondering why Susanne didn't just go back to her food once she saw an empty porch (and it also serves as a convenient way to establish the weather before it becomes relevant). I didn't write out the end of the scene, but it would probably look something like this:

[SK propose a time to meet]

[BF agree + head out]

[SK notice BF grab box and object to her stealing]

[BF ~eyeroll/equiv, explain box hers and ask if SK would've opened the door if she'd seen empty porch]

[SK ~"Ugh, right, duh" reaction, BF response?]

[BF depart, SK watch for a bit? + return to dinner (+ nar note SK thought regarding now-inevitably-cold food?), SCENE END]

[NOTE: try to set up/include BF "It's just water." bit to contrast BF actual reasoning with SK biased narration]


Finally, the "and that's why it wasn't discovered a century and a half ago" is intended to mean "and that's why it wasn't discovered in the middle of the 1800s (ie during the time period whose aesthetic the magic favors most)". Unfortunately, the timing of the magic's manifestation is another thing that I didn't figure out how to elaborate on without resorting to an out-of-character As You Know infodump (which would probably be tonally appropriate given certain genre stereotypes, but I've got to draw the line somewhere); the best I figured out how to manage was Beatrix's line about chronium being "discovered a few years back, when people still didn’t know much about Gaslamp tech". While a setting that diverged in the mid-1800s would be really interesting, it'd also take a ton of work to worldbuild properly, and since I had an all-too-vindicated suspicion that I was going to be running up hard against the contest deadline, I was basically forced to take the least-time-intensive option of a familiar modern setting, which required the magic to have been around long enough to have been studied a bit but not long enough to provide sufficient proof of its outlandish properties to go mainstream and start causing radical changes.

>>Not_A_Hat
For what it's worth, I certainly don't think the story properly concludes the Susanne/Beatrix aspect. To some extent that's because the relatively one-sided nature of Susanne's conflict with Beatrix that I'd intended is absolutely not readily gleanable from the story as it stands, so even if the planned denouement had been executed better it wouldn't have been sufficient to address what readers actually take away from their sections. In large part it's because I ended up scrapping quite a bit of Susanne/Beatrix interaction and Susanne/Calvin discussion, so there's a lot less on-screen development than is probably called for. But I think the biggest issue is that I wrote the ending before the bulk of Beatrix's scenes, so I essentially had to guess at what would still need to be dealt with in detail, and obviously didn't manage to cover everything that ultimately needed it. Unfortunately, I'm not sure what I could have done to improve things, because that turned out to be an extremely good decision: the earlier parts might be important, but having an ending is vital, and if the deadline hadn't been extended the fact that I wrote the ending when I did would've made the difference between submitting a weak-but-functional narrative and submitting a collection of events that sort of look like a story but crash to a halt without wrapping anything up.

Do you have any suggestions for how to make characters calling each other by different names less potentially confusing? It's not something I'd expect to use all the time (or necessarily to such an extent – I figure I might as well go all-out with any experimental stuff early on, since if it doesn't work it's not like it's going to ruin a particularly good story anyway), but it's also too useful for characterization to just let fall by the wayside. I do suspect that a lot of my early story attempts will end up being not very forgiving to the less-attentive reader, but I'd prefer to minimize the extent to which that happens, at least as long as it's not intentional.

Of course, it would've been rather more appropriate to have the story in third-person omniscient instead anyway, but I haven't read anywhere near enough 3PO stories to have a good idea how to use it, and while scrambling to dash down a contest entry in a week is not the time to try figuring it out.

Definitely agreed on the need to get essentially any significant exposition into the first half of the story (or the second half, but that's a different issue). That's probably the area where a stylistic aspect ended up hurting the story the most – if the story had been in 3PO, it would have been dramatically easier to fit in lots of background information without the delivery coming across as unnatural. However, I know it's certainly possible to do in the particular third-person limited variant this story actually ended up using, so I suspect this may be a case where the solution may well be just to practice.

And I'm glad you ended up enjoying the story anyway despite the issues. Particularly the pun(s?) – I know they're pretty throwaway compared to everything else, but I find them disproportionately appealing relative to a lot of the more actually important stuff, and it's nice to see them well-received even though I didn't manage to make as good a use of them as I had hoped.

>>TitaniumDragon
About too many big words: yeah, I was afraid that might end up being the case, since an aspect of Calvin's character that only got inadequately hinted at is that he's intentionally trying to affect a particular "professory" image to help with how the magic works for him. I did try to ensure things didn't go too overboard by restricting myself to just words I'm already familiar with from seeing them used in media multiple times (which, yes, includes "peregrinated"), but the consensus seems to be that it doesn't appear to have worked particularly well. However, it feeling like the story's trying too hard at times might actually be appropriate if all those times are in Calvin's narration or dialogue, so I'm not really sure yet to what extent that should be considered a bug versus a feature.

I've covered most of the second paragraph's stuff in previous comments, so onto the most important aspect: I'm glad to see you liked the shirts and the puns. Those were pretty much the only "real" jokes I intentionally included (at least that I remember as of the time of writing this comment), and I was somewhat worried that this would be a case where everyone else's sense of humor differed from mine, so it's good to see that everyone who's brought them up so far has appreciated them.

What I had originally envisioned as the core narrative was Calvin's arcs, including some cut stuff for the gap between 27 August and 14 September about the aftereffects on him. The increased focus on Susanne and Beatrix was in some ways kind of a throw-it-in aspect that emerged as it became apparent that my early fears of struggling to meet the word floor were perhaps not entirely warranted, and their sections ended up being significantly more discovery-writing than Calvin's. Ideally, reconciling the two a bit better would've been something to do during a second draft of the story, but given my time troubles I was essentially forced to just muddle through and hope it'd work alrightish anyway.

Also, are you sure you meant to say "Beatrix" there instead of "Susanne"? Beatrix is the one who already knows how to use Gaslamp tech, and who ends up helping Susanne not-sufficiently-onscreen to get it to work, so I can certainly imagine that Beatrix coming to accept Gaslamp technology would seem a bit vacuous as a central conflict.

And to finish off, while I've covered this paragraph's material earlier too, it does lead me to wonder: would going in knowing the story wasn't actually intended to be properly comedic have affected its interpretation/rating, and if so, how?
#16973 ·
· on A Good Idea
>>Not_A_Hat
Ah, good. I mean, it's not good that the voicing is too samey, but it's always nice when the solution to a new problem turns out to be "start by fixing a known problem and then work from there".

I did want and try to associate them with individual characteristics, but I'm not sure any made it into the story enough for people to pick up on; at the very least, if anyone did they haven't brought it up yet. Pretty much the only character/voicing thing whose implementation I was really satisfied with is Susanne's tendency to (over)address people while talking to them in proportion to how respectful she's feeling toward them at the time, and that basically just distinguishes Susanne from herself (between different situations) rather than helping to make her voicing distinctive where it really matters.

And thanks for the input.