A short scene

Ed
Eddy
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Sat Feb 06, 2010 7:28 pm Post

As I'm a newbie here, I think it would be appropriate to contribute to the 'example pool'. Writing being such a personal endeavor I believe it healthy to get an outside perspective on it!

So, without further ado, here is an example scene for the lions to maul:

Eddy

---

Virtually bent double Aleksi zig-zagged as fast as he could through the pine trees, ice crystals stinging his face as he careered through the woodland. Although fit and well trained he couldn’t maintain this pace much longer, the snow was getting deeper by the minute and he was tiring fast. The forest tore at him as he ran but adrenaline powered him onwards. From the distance came the sound of dogs barking and men shouting. At random intervals short bursts of automatic gunfire punctuated the night but Aleksi considered this a psychological tactic. His pursuers knew only of his general direction and the conditions precluded visual contact. Nonetheless they were many, he was one and they knew the forest better than he did. The darkness made it impossible to pick the best routes but Aleksi's instincts were keen and he had a rough knowledge of the local geography.

Quickly, he summarised his options. The enemy were approaching from the North. South-West lay the Sergosa hills but the terrain there lacked cover, besides which the dogs would catch him in no time on an incline. Two klicks ahead to the South was the river Tharza which flowed fast from the hills but the rocks would be treacherous and the water freezing. This left only the option of heading for a disused mine to the South-East. Some choice. He cursed softly.

Veering right to make for the mine, events overtook him. The snow underfoot gave way to a steep slope covered in icy gravel down which he plunged uncontrollably. With no time to adjust he lost his footing and tumbled wildly, collecting fresh abrasions as his limbs flailed against the rocks protruding from the scree. The angle of descent increased rapidly but relaxing his body Aleksi regained some semblance of control, aware that if tense he was at greater risk of serious injury. Instinctively he manoeuvred into a feet first position and dug his heels in to counter the acceleration. A small mound of loose material built up beneath his boots slowing his descent.

It was not enough to halt his progress but there was less risk of breaking an arm or a leg. Allowing himself momentary comfort in the knowledge that it would be difficult for the enemy to follow him he was again taken by surprise as the ground abruptly disappeared altogether and he was in free-fall. Twisting awkwardly in the air he fought to stay vertical with a view to landing upright. For all he knew the drop wasn’t survivable but if there was any chance of making it he had to land on his feet.

The inevitable impact was sickening. Aleksi did his best to tuck and roll but by the time his brain registered contact his upper body was slamming into the earth below him with unbelievable force. He crumpled, rolled a short distance and came to a halt splayed on his back. Paralysed, he couldn't even turn his head to avoid the shower of debris that rained down on his face and body. He was vaguely aware of blood running from his nose as the clattering ceased, at which time he lost consciousness.
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Sat Feb 06, 2010 11:04 pm Post

Please note that this is NOT a criticism but a mere observation.

You are the writer and we are the reader. You know about all the backstories and context of the scene you just described. The readers knew nothing.

Without a context it is very hard for the readers to care about the protagonist. Sure he/she was being chased. Why? no idea. What year is it? no idea. Is he a good guy or a bad guy? no idea.

If the reader is lacking in context, it really takes away the enjoyment of the story. For example: who is this person and why do I care about him?

So could you please give us some context.

If you just want me to comment on your writing style, your style is great but I still cannot feel anything because I do not know what is happening nor am I emotionally involved with the protagonist.

So you know now that as a reader I want to feel the story and not just read it.

Ca
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Sun Feb 07, 2010 12:06 am Post

First off, what Steven said about the need to make the reader care.

Second, please bear in mind that I'm a proofreader/copyeditor, so I found it extremely difficult to focus anyway with the grammar rules that were broken for no apparent reason.

Is English your first language? If it is, you're using your thesaurus too much.

You seemed to be trying to write 'properly', per what's technically correct, grammatically, but the result's a bit awkward to read. Your sentence structure doesn't vary enough, either. Long sentences diffuse tension—not something I think you want here.

People tend to learn best by showing, so I've prepared two adjusted versions of your excerpt's first three paragraphs—the first what you wrote with the little tweaks to make it technically correct, and the second a revision that turns it into what I think you wanted. (I'm not claiming my adjustments are perfect, by any means.)

Required grammar changes to your version wrote:Virtually bent double, Aleksi zig-zagged as fast as he could through the pine trees, ice crystals stinging his face as he careened through the woodland. Although fit and well-trained he couldn’t maintain this pace much longer. The snow was getting deeper by the minute, and he was tiring fast. The forest tore at him as he ran, but adrenaline powered him onwards. From the distance came the sounds of dogs barking and men shouting. At random intervals, short bursts of automatic gunfire punctuated the night, but Aleksi considered this a psychological tactic. His pursuers knew only of his general direction, and the conditions precluded visual contact. Nonetheless they were many; he was one, and they knew the forest better than he did. The darkness made it impossible to pick the best routes, but Aleksi's instincts were keen, and he had a rough knowledge of the local geography.

Quickly, he considered his options. The enemy was approaching from the north. Southwest lay the Sergosa hills, but the terrain there lacked cover, and the dogs would catch him in no time on an incline. Two klicks ahead to the south was the river Tharza which flowed fast from the hills, but the rocks would be treacherous and the water freezing. That left only the option of heading for an unused mine to the southeast. Some choice. He cursed softly.

When he veered right to make for the mine, nature overtook him. The snow underfoot gave way to a steep slope covered in icy gravel down which he plunged. With no time to adjust, he lost his footing and tumbled wildly, collecting fresh abrasions as his limbs flailed against the rocks protruding from the scree. The angle of descent increased rapidly, but relaxing his body Aleksi regained some semblance of control, aware that if tense he was at greater risk of serious injury. Instinctively he maneuvered into a feet-first position and dug his heels in to counter the acceleration. A small mound of loose material built up beneath his boots, slowing his descent.


Adjusted version wrote:Aleksi bent practically double as he zigzagged through the pine trees. Ice crystals stung his face. Although fit and well-trained, he couldn’t maintain this pace much longer. The snow was getting deeper by the minute, and he was tiring fast.

The forest tore at him as he ran; adrenaline powered him onwards. He could hear dogs barking and men shouting in the distance, punctuated at random intervals by short bursts of automatic gunfire.

It was a scare tactic, Aleksi thought. His pursuers knew only his general direction; they couldn't see him. That wouldn't last long; they outnumbered him and knew the forest better than he did. He couldn't see where to go in the dark, but Aleksi's instincts were keen and he had a rough knowledge of the local geography.

He quickly considered his options. They came after him from the north. Southwest were the Sergosa hills, which lacked cover against the guns, and the dogs would fast catch him on the incline. The river Tharza was two klicks to the south and would get the dogs off his scent, but the rocks would be treacherous and the water freezing. That left the unused mine to the southeast. Some choice. He cursed softly.

Aleksi veered right to make for the mine. The snow underfoot gave way to a steep slope, covered in icy gravel. He plunged downwards, collecting fresh bruises against the rocks.

The steepness of the slope only increased as he fell. Aleksi relaxed his body to reduce risk of serious injury, and instinctively twisted to fall feet-first. He dug his heels into the gravel. A small mound of loose material built up beneath his boots, slowing his descent.


If you have any questions about why I changed something, please feel free to ask. If something did not end up how you intended it to be understood, then you might want to take a look at what you have written. A few points were confusing. ("Events overtook him" makes no sense, for example.)

Does this help?

EDIT: I'm US-based, not UK, but I do have some familiarity with the UK grammar rules, too.
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KB
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Sun Feb 07, 2010 1:55 am Post

Sorry, but I have to say that I utterly disagree with both Steven and Carradee.

Firstly, I didn't need to know anything else about your story other than that here was a guy in danger and being chased. Plenty of books and films start with someone I don't know anything about in a bad situation, and I'll happily go along with that, knowing that I'll find out more later. So me, I still cared about this guy. I didn't feel I needed more context to appreciate your passage.

Also, I think that asking Eddy if English is his first language is grossly unfair and more than a little insulting - English clearly is his first language, and if you ask me he's more than proficient in it. Personally, I can't see that his excerpt is grammatically poor in any way; quite the opposite. In fact, I thought it was well-written. I also disagree about the thesaurus thing - there weren't any words in this passage that took me out of the action or that were particularly obscure. Over all, I thought the excerpt did exactly what it was intended to do - the first three paragraphs especially I thought captured the adrenaline of the chase.

That said, I agree with Carradee that some of the sentences - but not all of them, by no means - could be made shorter, purely to vary the pace. However, I feel that Carradee's edit pushes it way too far in the other direction and I found her version to be staccato and monotone; Eddy's version had much more flow and conveyed more of the character's mind. The character is clearly someone well-trained and calm in a dangerous situation, able to weigh up his options - the longer sentences made this clearer. Editing is great, but short sentences do not necessarily equal more tension. A long sentence with a delayed payoff can equally create tension, and I found more tension in Eddy's original passage. Sorry, Carradee!

I do agree that it could still be pruned a little more, though. For a start, I think that going through it and getting rid of weak adverbs such as "virtually" would really strengthen it - and I say this as someone with a really bad adverb habit.

In short, I liked it, and I also liked the flow and rhythm of the sentences for the most part, but agree with Carradee that it could maybe use a little more pruning here and there (the last two paragraphs weren't as strong as the first three, and I think given that they deal with an impact and loss of consciousness, where things are getting worse and more panicked, maybe they are where the sentences could get shorter). I say all this as someone who barely finishes anything and who has never had anything published, with no professional qualifications in fiction-writing whatsoever, so please take all of the above with as large a pinch of salt as you wish.

Many thanks for sharing your hard work!

All the best,
Keith

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Sun Feb 07, 2010 2:55 am Post

Thanks, KB—you've pointed out what I hadn't realized I'd lost in a browser mishap with my reply: writing styles vary, so I might've missed your point entirely. If so, ignore my input as you see fit. I can't stand CS Lewis's sci-fi, myself, nor understand it, but I'm fond of his fantasy.

Also, a clarification: I didn't intend my question on English being your first language to imply that I found your proficiency lacking. The way you use words made me wonder about your native language, that's all.

:)

With all three of our responses, you have a vivid picture of 'average' readership. Different people have different preferences and tastes—and different presuppositions and base knowledge they bring to a work.

KB and Steven liked your style. Remember that. :)
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dr
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Sun Feb 07, 2010 4:45 am Post

I concur with all the suggestions made so far: context, grammar, etc.
For me, the POV keeps shifting, so constantly that I have to stop and ask:
Who's telling me this? How does he know that? Why should we know it?
Take this one sentence as a sample:
The darkness made it impossible to pick the best routes but Aleksi's instincts were keen and he had a rough knowledge of the local geography.
The darkness part, that's probably internal and first person.
But if Aleksi is going to sit around and brag about his instincts and knowledge, well then he's not in much danger. Those observations are seemingly external and third person.

In action scenes especially, it's always best to SHOW, not TELL. Use action to imply qualities instead of dictating and editorializing.

Rewrite: Ahead the path vanished into darkness. He felt with his feet, trying to sense a path. To the left and down, that was a village. Right and upward might lead to a cliff. Behind he heard curses and harsh breathing. Time to decide. Now.

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Sun Feb 07, 2010 5:06 am Post

First thing I'll say is thank you for the (obviously) carefully considered feedback. I drafted this in a completely solo situation and as such I value such feedback because this is very much the kind of thing that you just don't hear from friends and family.

In a nutshell, no offence (English spelling is deliberate) taken. I truly value all feedback on my style. Writing properly is something I am aware that many aspire to and few achieve. In this regard it's like music (something else I spend a lot of time crafting).

Rather than respond to specific points raised at this juncture I'm going to absorb and consider the points raised thus far and take them into consideration. I'll weigh up all responses and post whatever re-draft I end up with as a result, if only to complete the context.

The only caveat I'd like to inject at this point is that the extract is obviously out of context. The subsequent scene fills this context in and explains why Aleksi is fleeing and paints a bigger picture clarifying the situation and why he is in it.

As KB stated, English is my first language (I speak German well enough to get along but this isn't relevant here.) The original text for this scene ran over 1500 words and I "murdered my darlings" extensively to cut it down to about 1/3 the size but this is still a work in progress.

For the record, I omitted the single line at the start that places this scene as occurring on 23rd Feb 1965. Perhaps I should have included that.

I thank you all for the input, be assured that it's not seed cast on infertile ground, so to speak :)

Carradee , the fact you have taken the time and effort to provide examples of your thoughts on the extract is not lost on me. I thank you particularly for this - I'll be carefully considering the suggestions you've made.

In short, excellent feedback - and I thank you all for it. This may or may not mean changes in my draft, but ultimately you can't please all of the people all of the time. I will, however, be taking everything said into account :)

Eddy
"Writerʼs block is just a symptom of feeling like you have nothing to say, combined with the rather weird idea that you SHOULD feel the need to say something." - Hugh MacLeod

Ed
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Sun Feb 07, 2010 5:25 am Post

Carradee wrote: A few points were confusing. ("Events overtook him" makes no sense, for example.)

Does this help?

EDIT: I'm US-based, not UK, but I do have some familiarity with the UK grammar rules, too.


Actually, "Events overtook him" could be a quintessentially English phrase. I am an English writer as both my spelling and turn of phrase probably illustrates. It does make complete sense in English (err, any fellow Brits who want to disagree with this are welcome to speak up.)

Nonetheless, I echo my previous sentiment thanking you for taking the time to suggest an alternative version of the first paragraphs. A couple of things you mentioned, I would disagree with (perhaps to my peril), but others I will certainly consider carefully.

I particularly like "careened" :)

Eddy
"Writerʼs block is just a symptom of feeling like you have nothing to say, combined with the rather weird idea that you SHOULD feel the need to say something." - Hugh MacLeod

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vic-k
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Sun Feb 07, 2010 11:13 am Post

Eddy wrote:
here is an example scene for the lions to maul:”
Eddy,

An unfortunate and insulting choice of words, if I may make so bold! To liken the members of Scriveners crew, to, ‘Lions’, does the lions a terrible disservice. The Lion is a majestic beast, its prowess without equal in most areas. I think you`ll be more than adequately served by: sharks, barracudas, and piranhas.

I`m a long time Jarre fan, by the way.

Reading the excerpt, I get a very strong feeling that you are: Ex-Armed Forces, and/or; A Skydiver; Survivalist or Outward Bound type individual. Or you have studied each area in some detail.

Although exciting and graphic, for my taste, the excerpt is overly endowed with technique for surviving this or that eventuality.

I`m having difficulty believing that Aleksi, given that he is fleeing for his life, would have the presence of mind to implement or even consider implementing these different procedures (for which I`m assuming he has undergone intense training), in such rapid succession. Also, bearing in mind that training for these situations, no matter how arduous, is in relatively non-life threatening circumstances. I would be inclined to strip out the technique, and inject some fear, panic, shock instead.

I think I would have Aleksi, ‘consider’ his options rather than, ‘summarise’, them.
I would avoid word groupings like: North. South-West lay I`d be inclined to reword that to, “from the north. To the south west”. Even with the full stop/period, I read it as North South west. Others may have no problem with it.

Make Aleksi more of a man, less of an, ‘automaton’.

Given the points I`ve raised, I would still be inclined (love), to read the rest of the story. It extends the promise of an exciting read.

I`m not skilled in the discipline of Literary Critique (just one shortcoming amongst many others), I just like what I like.

Take care
Vic



I was about to post this last night, but read what had already been posted, and my eyes started to bleed. If this is what passes for constructive criticism, I`m Dostoyevsky.

I`ll come back and offer some qualification for the above, when I`ve had me dinner.
You don`t have to read it of course. :wink:
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Sun Feb 07, 2010 7:44 pm Post

Dear shipmates,
To inject a little context into what many of you will consider this offensive closing statement in my previous post: I was about to post this last night, but read what had already been posted, and my eyes started to bleed. If this is what passes for constructive criticism, I`m Dostoyevsky.”, let me offer you my non-erudite critique of of what, I`m beginning to perceive as, ’Critique by Rote’.

When an individual offers up for your perusal, and subsequent objective criticism, of, something that consists of a block of text some few hundred words in length (not half a novel!), and has been pre tagged as an, ‘excerpt from’, or, ‘scene from’, a substantially larger body of work, they expect you to devote your time and talent to critiquing those few hundred words.

You are being credited by the author, as possessing sufficient intellectual faculties to enable you to figure out, that, by the very definition of, ‘Excerpt’, or ‘Scene’, it comes without, pre or post contextual qualification. So:

Steven,
If Eddy had presented us with the first half of a novel, it`s reasonable to assume, that all the points you`ve raised would have had legitimate cause for expression...or not...depending on the content of, ‘Half a novel’. However, in the context of a few hundred word extract, your post is...irrelevant. Except that is, for a few words of one sentence, i.e., “If you just want me to comment on your writing style, your style is great.” Which, generally, speaking, doesn`t leave an awful lot more to be said, within certain parameters. Anything said outside of the limit imposed by the construction/nature of the piece, is nothing more than spurious and specious self aggrandising.

Carradee wrote,
“First off, what Steven said about the need to make the reader care".<---The way Ian Flemming did with Rosa Klebb? Would, ‘hate’, serve the same purpose? Is that an incongruous question, born of ignorance (mine)? All of which is irrelevant when we set out to aquatint ourselves with the relative merits and demerits, of Eddy`s little, ‘out of context’, extract. Having said that. Aleksi is a survivor. I quite like him. What`s more, I`m hoping he hasn`t broke his back in the fall.


Second, please bear in mind that I'm a proofreader/copyeditor,<---This isn`t the first time you`ve told us that. ... "so I found it extremely difficult to focus anyway" ... Was it really that difficult, Dee ...with the grammar rules that were broken for no apparent reason."

"Is English your first language? If it is, you're using your thesaurus too much."<---this arrogance just beggers belief

"You seemed to be trying to write 'properly', per what's technically correct, grammatically,<--your perspicacity is astonishing, Dee...but then perhaps not. Isn`t that what we`re all trying to do? ...but the result's a bit awkward to read. Your sentence structure doesn't vary enough,either".<--- ah ha! Something we can get to grips with. "Long sentences diffuse tension—not something I think you want here." True! True!

"People tend to learn best by showing, so I've prepared two adjusted versions <---Another recurring phenomenon? ...of your excerpt's first three paragraphs—the first what you wrote with the little tweaks to make it technically correct, and the second a revision that turns it into what I think you wanted.<---seems more like, “look at me everybody.” (I'm not claiming my adjustments are perfect, by any means.) <---The quintessential get out clause. A bit like, “I dish it out...but...I`m prepared to take it too.

Let`s take a look at.
Required grammar changes to your version wrote:
Contentious Change No1
original: careered. verb [ intrans. ]
move swiftly and in an uncontrolled way in a specified direction.
Replacement: careen |kəˌriːn|
verb
1 [ trans. ] turn (a ship) on its side for cleaning, caulking, or repair.
• [ intrans. ] (of a ship) tilt; lean over : a heavy flood tide caused my vessel to careen dizzily.
2 [ intrans. ] move swiftly and in an uncontrolled way in a specified direction : an electric golf cart careened around the corner. [ORIGIN: influenced by the verb career .] NO NEED TO CHANGE

Contentious Change No2
Origional: ‘events overtook him’. ‘events overtook him; is a play on, Overtaken by Events or Overcome by Events. Military jargon. As apposite as you are likely to get, under the circumstances.

Replacement: ‘nature overtook him’. Which means...what exactly? Did Aleksi need a pee? Was he overtaken by the Hare and the Tortoise?

Contentious Replacement No3
Origional: manoeuvred. Wholly unnecessary replacment: maneuvered
Manoeuvred: British spelling of, American ‘maneuvered” Is there something I`ve missed about the Special Relationship.

Contentious Replacement No4
Original: Disused. Bizarre replacement: unused
Disused as in abandoned no longer in use
Unused as in never been used, virgin, fresh as a daisy, etc.

I give up with you Dee.


Lets have a look at: ‘Show don`t tell’. This mantra like utterance gets trotted out, ad nauseam. With but one exception (to my knowledge) devoid of any qualifying conditions. For the first time, a proselytiser seems to be acknowledging that showing is appropriate in some circumstances and not in others.
Droo wrote: “in action scenes especially, it's always best to SHOW, not TELL. Use action to imply qualities instead of dictating and editorializing.” I`m not sure exactly what droo`s referring to, with reference to, d`ing `n` e`ing. But nonetheless, in this case, “action scenes especially” does seem to hint at the possibility of exceptions. This is the first time I`ve come across any hint that there may be circumstances, where telling is acceptable. Who knows it could even be encouraged. I could be wrong. It may actually be a more emphatic endorsement of, ‘Show dont tell’. It doesn`t take a great deal of wit, to figure out, that there`s a time to show, and there`s a time to tell. The gift, is knowing when.

I`ll bet Tolstoy did an awful lot of telling, in order to keep W&P moving along, as well as keeping it to just shy of half a million words.

But! If those in the know; the people to whom we look up to, for our guidance, out of respect for their supposed superior knowledge of the craft, treat our entreaties as nothing more than an opportunity for smartarsed off hand quips, in lieu of an encouraging and graspable turn of phrase; or as a platform for a session of self aggrandisement. Any hopes of a forum aboard Scriv, for meaningful critiquing are stillborn,
vic
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Sun Feb 07, 2010 9:37 pm Post

Ouch, Vic.
You show me yours....and I'll tell you mine, buddy. :shock:

Seriously, I think you are way too protective of folks who have posted material and asked for critiques. I believe the current writer under examination sent back many thanks for our suggestions, and really, that's all they are.

Over the years I have edited and advised thousands of writers, and I don't feel you do them any good by falsely praising their efforts and "encouraging" them. In the USA, it's called "self-empowerment" and in my view it's ruined a whole generation, who have never heard NO or been told that, at this stage in their lives, their dreams of "becoming an artist" are misplaced, especially when their work, at this stage, is mediocre, or average, or cliched, or whatever term fits. Note, at this stage: one can always hope for improvement, if a writer is not too hard-headed to listen.

Professional editors, and they are fast vanishing into retirement or redundancy, are even tougher on writing that is not in a publishable condition. If I'm asked to look at a sample, I'm not going to change my standards and say, as though this were a 3rd grade piano recital, MY goodness, how wonderful little Bertie is at Chopsticks. Lots of writing groups do that; I'd like to think the Scriveners are trying to promote a higher level of achievement.

And what is your problem about show/tell? It's one of the soundest pieces of advice in the business, and hard to achieve, until you hammer it home. Don't TELL me the character is carrying a heavy backpack; SHOW that in the character's actions, exertions, body language, sweaty brow, etc. What you achieve is freeing the reader to respond to the drama unfolding. Telling is guiding and pushing the reader to think or feel in a determined way; it shows no trust in the reader and is the device of a propagandist or editorial writer. As for Tolstoy, well, he often fell into that role, as you say. For my money, Gorky or Turgenev are far greater writers.

So, anyway, you're entitled to your views, but I don't think anyone was abusive in this round of comments. 'Cept maybe you, old man, and you know that I admire you greatly. (I was going to ask you your views of Stephen Poliakoff, whose films I've been watching of late.)

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David in Maine
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Mon Feb 08, 2010 2:06 am Post

Thanks for sharing your example - the action held my attention!

If you want to use a thesaurus, craft long sentences, or end a paragraph three pages later, that's all fine with me. I"ll only need enough background about Aleksi to keep me believing in him.

Good luck with your story.

Regards,
David in Maine USA

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Mon Feb 08, 2010 2:16 am Post

Droo
I you want to respond to the points I`ve raised, feel free. There`s plenty of source material. I would welcome it. But don`t insult me by coming back with a response that completely ignores those points.
Go on, give it your best shot. Let me see your detailed rebuttal of all the points I`ve raised.
Show me, where I`m wrong, don`t tell me!
Take care
Vic

David,
Welcome to the debate.
Take care.
Vic
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Ed
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Mon Feb 08, 2010 3:38 am Post

Just for the record, I'm following the thread with interest - I have some thoughts on the contributions so far raised, but I don't think it would be appropriate to constructively criticize constructive criticism on something I wrote originally ... though I might weigh in with some general observations tomorrow on specific points not directly related!

Thank you for the straightforward compliment David.

Oh, one thing, I didn't use a thesaurus.

Eddy
"Writerʼs block is just a symptom of feeling like you have nothing to say, combined with the rather weird idea that you SHOULD feel the need to say something." - Hugh MacLeod

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Mon Feb 08, 2010 4:31 am Post

vic-k wrote:Let me see your detailed rebuttal of all the points I`ve raised.


I only addressed the points you directed to me, guv.
The other critics can take care of themselves.
I don't like the tone of this exchange, so let's drop it.