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Boss of the writing contest!
 Post subject: Autumn 'Hidden' writing contest comments
PostPosted: Wed Nov 07, 2012 2:18 pm GMT 
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This is a thread for commenting on the writing contest entries. You can view them here.

Their names are:


An Elephant Story
Hidden Lies
Workshop
Jane
Splinters and Ice
Unexpected
The Sight of Blackbirds



Part of the reason for running this Writing contest is to encourage forum members to be creative, and to give them a chance to get some feedback on their creative efforts. It's great to get thoughtful, respectful comments on your work, and this thread is intended to be a place for people to give and receive them.

Please be respectful in your comments and make any criticism you give constructive.

Please don't discuss or debate who did which entry, or who owns the characters.

Please don't reveal which entry is yours, or comment in a way that makes it obvious.

Please don't talk about who you are voting for!

Make sure and mention what entry you are commenting on when you give feed back.

And enjoy!

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And then stuff happened.
 Post subject: Re: Autumn 'Hidden' writing contest comments
PostPosted: Wed Nov 07, 2012 7:44 pm GMT 
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Ok, so, one of these is mine, so I’m going to only comment on a couple of them.

An Elephant Story
I liked it overall. I liked how slow it was. It made me feel the fatigue of the elephants and just the general slowness of the creatures. But, there was a lot of repetition that was a little...I don’t know...cumbersome? I liked it though.

Jane
I’m not so sure about this one. First, the constant change in tense is very, very distracting. “He watches her.” “He walked down the hall.” I’m also not sure how it fits with the theme. It’s a good story, and one that really brought me back to high school. It’s something one can really see happening. Just, careful with the tense thing.


Splinters and Ice
Oh my god I love this one. It was a little slow, I was kinda distracted watching NCIS and folding laundry at the same time, but you managed to keep my interest enough that I actually read it. And being the lover of ghost stories that I am, I absolutely love the end of this one. Brilliant. It’s such a long lead up for such a...a...I don’t know. I love it.

Ok, now I need to really get back to that laundry thing I just mentioned...I might get on later to comment on some of the others...

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Ahoy!
 Post subject: Re: Autumn 'Hidden' writing contest comments
PostPosted: Thu Nov 08, 2012 1:07 pm GMT 
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Emily O'Connor wrote:
Ok, so, one of these is mine, so I’m going to only comment on a couple of them.
^Haha yep, this. Also my comments will probably just be more thoughtful if I don't try to review them all at once.

An Elephant Story
Okay, so I like this one a lot. I have to admit, it startled me at first. I can't remember the last time I read a story that was narrated by an elephant, so bonus points for creativity!

There are some sentences in here that lost me, though--either because they were long, convoluted, or a little of both. For example: "We are like battle tanks rolling through the great, yellowing savannah, fading into the night - not with fighting, hardened and battle-ready soldiers, but with tiny cherished children, the tender mothers who raise them with calm, reassuring patience, and the doting grandmothers whose old and eternal hearts will always love both above all other treasures on this earth."

This closing sentence isn't as strong as it could be; the message is diluted by all the adjectives, some of which strike me as redundant. Just as an example, the same sentence could be revised to "We are like battle tanks rolling through the great, yellowing savannah, fading into the night - not with hardened, battle-ready soldiers, but with cherished children, the tender, patient mothers who raise them, and the doting grandmothers whose eternal hearts will love them both, above all other treasures on this earth." The essence of the sentence is the same, but by clipping out those few descriptors, you can improve the flow of the writing and make it easier for the reader to follow.

That being said, I love how vividly you paint the elephants' world. There are some great descriptive passages which, for me, really emphasize the confines as well as the limitations of the elephants' world (i.e. "tree-sap eyes" as opposed to something like ink which would be outside an elephant's ken). It did make me wonder about the use of the battle-tanks analogy, though. I know I'm being super picky, but it stood out to me as the only descriptive passage which wasn't rooted in the elephants' natural environment. Still, I can see why it would be hard to compare them to anything else.

Overall, this strikes me as a very well-written piece. I wonder if, with more time, you could have delved even deeper into the elephants' cosmology. Are they at all spiritual (was the "heavens save us" a throwaway remark, or an allusion to their religion)? Do they believe in any sort of afterlife? What does death mean to them? I'm very curious to know more, which is a good sign that you've created a compelling scenario!

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Ahoy!
 Post subject: Re: Autumn 'Hidden' writing contest comments
PostPosted: Thu Nov 08, 2012 7:44 pm GMT 
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Well, I was planning to pace myself and focus on the test prep I should be doing... but as it turns out I can't resist the siren song of giving literary feedback. So, in lieu of something more productive: Review the Second!

Hidden Lies
Nice take on the theme! I'm intrigued by Lizzy and her dilemma. The thing about writing short stories, though, is that there's not room for both breadth and depth in subject matter. I felt like I was reading the synopsis of a longer piece. The beginning had some nice details; the sounds of the party going on downstairs conjured up vivid memories of listening to other people's parties while stuck in my dorm doing homework.

There were some compelling hints at characterization (like Lazare's treatment of Lizzy and Peter's daughter), but I didn't feel like I knew anyone very well, and I wish I'd learned more. Why did Lizzy feel "nothing but hate" for Lazare? Was he a cruel man, or did she just resent him for being the man her parents chose in Peter's place? Why did Lazare consent to marry her--what was in it for him? Did Peter try to stop Lizzy and Lazare's wedding? Did Peter resent Lizzy for never trying to sneak away from her parents? and so on. Providing answers to these questions could really increase readers' emotional investment in the situation, which is always nice!

I'm also a little vague about the setting; we find out later on in the piece that they were in Texas before moving to Louisiana, and the banker/farmer thing did make me suspect it would be somewhere out West. Lazare being a plantation owner leads me to guess that it's sometime in the 1800s (probably post-Texan independence but before the Civil War?). But the fact that the girls were born in a hospital makes me think it must be later, maybe the early 1900s.

That's all comparatively minor stuff, of course. But I think a lot of the small stuff (summarizing feel, unanswered questions) could be fixed in a way that would also heighten the drama: by telling the story from a single, vivid moment in time (e.g. the moment when Lizzy's daughter confronts her mother about the truth) and filling in the backstory through a combination of flashbacks and dialogue. That way, what is hidden from the daughter could also be hidden from the reader, and revealed gradually in a way that builds suspense.

Anyway, that's about all the feedback I have. This is an exciting set-up (especially given the fact that she has a long-lost twin brother). If you decide to continue this story (for NaNoWriMo maybe...?) I hope we'll get to read the rest!

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The Personification of Spring
 Post subject: Re: Autumn 'Hidden' writing contest comments
PostPosted: Fri Nov 09, 2012 11:48 pm GMT 
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This will probably seem highly unsubstantial conpaired to the previous posters, but ah well! And I'll commen on mine just because. XD

An Elephant Story
Interesting concept on this one! I wouldn't have expected to see elephants in this contest. It does seem to sort of lumber about for parts as dvorak stated, though I suppose that would be fitting considering the characters. Nice descriptions and tone, though.

Hidden Lies
This one seems off to me; the beginning's rushed and it seems to be giving the child quite a bit of credit (unless I'm imaging them being younger than they are) for figuring it out so soon in her life, but it's certainly not bad.

Workshop
This one seemed pretty clever to me; a nice humorous twist at the end. However, it seems a bit boring to me-nothing much happens aside from him going downstairs into the room. It mostly seems like fluff and filler to me.

Jane
This one fits the theme well, but does have some grammatical issues; my main problem, though, is Travis doesn't really seem to feel real. I don't know of anyone acting like he does (being in love with someone but expressing whatever feeling he has for Jane). It just seems slightly unrealistic. The ending, though, was rather fitting and perfect.

Splinters and Ice
My god was this fantastic. The ending completely took me by surprise, especially considering how it was told it first person. My one complaint is I'm hut not sure it fits the theme, though perhaps I'm missing something.

Unexpected
This one I'm conflicted on; on one hand it fits the theme perfectly, is well written and has a good atmosphere. On the other, though, it seems unrealistic (maybe I'm expecting too much realism? I'm noticing a pattern...) It just doesn't seem real to have two soldiers suddenly develop a romance out of nowhere. (I really hope I didn't misinterpret this piece, because if did this will sound so confusing.)

The Sight of Blackbirds
On a personal level, honestly, I can't say I liked this one much; too sophisticated and moody for me. On a more inpersonal note, though, it has a good flow, nice bookends and a simple, realistic and believable plot, though as with some others I'm not seeing how it fits.

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This is nice coat!
 Post subject: Re: Autumn 'Hidden' writing contest comments
PostPosted: Sat Nov 10, 2012 3:06 am GMT 
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As Dvorak and Emily before me I’ll also be commenting on the stories bit by bit- via the aid of a random generator, just for fun. So, without further ado-

Unexpected

Strictly speaking, romance isn’t my cup of tea. However, this entry is excellently written, and of course fits the theme perfectly. I particularly like how you set up the background of the character for this. Rather than just jumping into the romance, we get little details about how he has a daughter back home, though not a wife, his dynamic with Martin, and his severe difficulties relating to the other soldiers in the trench. Those go a long way to showing his general character and making the reader care about him as a person. I get the impression that Ashford is the sort of person who tries to do the right thing, though not the kind of person who tries TOO hard, which is quite relatable.

Similarly, the way you described the actual romance aspect was very nicely done, illustrative while being completely tasteful. It made the entire thing seem rather sweet, which makes for stark contrast with the war raging all around them. It effectively got across how afraid he is that the people around him will figure out his secret attraction, without explicitly stating it. From Martin’s reaction at the end, I’m going to guess that he’d known all along by virtue of having been Ashford’s friend for so long.

However, something you have to watch with this level of detailed narration is how you brush past other things. The section describing the days and weeks leading up to leave seem fairly sparse in comparison. It makes sense that they wouldn’t get as much attention as the larger plot of the story, but I feel like a little more description, or maybe cutting down the events between the introduction and his meeting with Robert would make the story flow a little better.

There’s also the meeting place. While the furniture is described, and the general location, it doesn’t seem to me that that would make for a very isolated or secret meeting place, considering there would likely be more than one platoon on leave in the same area at the same time. Just something small, like saying the rest had gone out drinking or that Ashford hid himself away from the rest of them in a specific place, would be a nice thing to add here. I think it would make the story flow a little more smoothly.

All in all, this was a very well-written and interesting take on the contest theme, and I really liked your use of little details when it came to the main plot. You also avoided the hopeless tragedy theme that tends to get into many wartime romances, and I feel that’s an excellent quality to this piece as well. It’s an illustration of a moment in time when Ashford had something he was honestly happy about, separated from what was going on around him.

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Ahoy!
 Post subject: Re: Autumn 'Hidden' writing contest comments
PostPosted: Tue Nov 20, 2012 4:15 pm GMT 
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Okay, in honor of the vacation, here's another one! I wasn't planning to go in chronological order, but that's how it's turning out so far.

Workshop

Nice twist ending! Definitely thought Daryl was going to turn out to be some kind of weirdo serial killer or something.

First of all, though, a note on the mechanics of the story. Of 27 sentences total, over half of them (14) have semicolons. Many of these would read just as well (if not better) as two sentences with a dividing period, instead of as one sentence with a joining semicolon. For example:

"Daryl crept downstairs; it was well past midnight, and aside from the occasional nightbird or cricket cry, all was silent"
could just as easily be
"Daryl crept downstairs. It was well past midnight, and aside from the occasional nightbird or cricket cry, all was silent"

The two clauses don't have so much in common that dividing them into a sentence would detract from their meaning. In other cases, the semicolon is actually not the best choice in grammatical terms. For example:

"He had made sure to keep it all contained and far away from prying eyes; and here he knew it was safe"
would be a more correctly punctuated sentence as
"He had made sure to keep it all contained and far away from prying eyes, and here he knew it was safe"

That being said, it's generally considered good form to vary both the length and structure of your sentences. For a writing exercise, you might try constructing some longer sentences without using a semicolon. You can also use creative languages to avoid using the same words or phrases too many times in a short passage. For example:

"The house that night was dark; most of the lights had been switched off, with the exception of the occasional lamp or stray room light. There was no need for it; the only living being inside had ensured the house was dark."

In the first two lines of the story, we hear twice that the house was dark. Here, you have a chance to use literary devices like similes and metaphors which could enhance the creepy atmosphere of the story's beginning. for example: "The house that night was as black and silent as the tomb" or, if you want to get exceedingly fancy, "The house that night lay blanketed in sepulchral darkness"...you get the idea. Sometimes, carefully chosen poetic language can tell us much more about the setting or characters than the same information can when conveyed in plain words.

It's also easier for readers to get emotionally invested in the story when they can picture it in their heads. In that respect, a little description goes a long way. What is Daryl like physically? Is he a pale, shy loner-type? Is he funny-smelling and covered in greasy hair? I ask because both of those are stereotypes of serial killers, which you could draw on to enhance the creepiness of the story's first part. As is, the reader doesn't know how to feel about Daryl. He's sort of a blank to me. More description of the visual elements of this story would help me begin to form an opinion. What sort of house does Daryl live in? What, if anything, is on the walls? Is it a rickety old house with peeling paint and a weed-choked yard, or an innocuous-looking, well-maintained suburban residence? Does Daryl live alone? What does he do during the day (since he obviously doesn't sell his paintings for a living)?

You have a good idea here, in terms of scenario and plot, and the surprise reveal at the end. I think answering, or at least alluding to, some of the questions posed above could help this story come to life.

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Ahoy!
 Post subject: Re: Autumn 'Hidden' writing contest comments
PostPosted: Fri Nov 23, 2012 4:21 pm GMT 
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Right! Three down, three to go. Somehow this feels much more productive than scouring Thanksgiving messes.

Jane

This was a great story, certainly among my favorites. As others before have pointed out, there are some ways in which the craft of the writing could be improved. What I liked most about this story was the emotional core which, to me, felt very consistent and extremely true. Actually, as someone who consistently leans toward the wordier end of things, I personally appreciate this style of straightforward storytelling. When a lot of writers tend toward this sparseness, their story suffers as a result, because what they're leaving out is descriptive information about setting, characters, etc which would have really helped the reader. In this case, though, the character of Jane is conjured vividly in just a few lines, proving once again that a low word count does not a poor story make.

I am in agreement with others that the grammatical switches seem kind of random and distracting. My suggestion would be to change it so everything is in present tense, except maybe for the flashback. Writing in multiple tenses requires you to be very deliberate about switching from one to the other. Here, the transitions between past and present are sort of awkward on both ends of the flashback.

"Her thoughts go back to another time..." sort of pulled me out of the moment of the story. I think it was the ellipses which did it; I am personally prejudiced against ellipses as a scene-change device. A more fluid transition might be something as simple as "She remembers that time a few weeks ago when she saw him walk down the hall, confident, and surrounded by his friends."

Likewise, when you end the flashback and return to the present, the sense of continuity could be enhanced by a small reminder that we're back in the present. For example: "Now Travis smiles and waves at her." Not a big change, but the reader won't be distracted wondering whether this is a continuation of the first moment.

That said, there's a lot about the formatting that I really enjoy, like the change in narrative style after Travis gives her the rose. The reader really gets a sense of how scrambled and disjointed her thoughts are.

I might be repeating myself, but this story and the dilemma therein both feel very true to me. I knew a couple of guys who acted just like that in high school, and while I don't condone that sort of behavior, I can sort of understand the psychology behind it. To be perfectly frank, most of the time when I see anything related to high school romance, it makes me roll my eyes. Once you're out of high school, it's easy to forget how real and immediate and painful high school could be. That's something that's glossed over by a lot of the pop culture storylines and cliches attached to high school. This story, on the other hand, reunites the little heartbreaks of perfectly ordinary kids to the very real pain that accompanies them--even the ones that seem trivial at first glance.

In short, the grammatical, mechanical writing stuff is a pretty easy fix. It's a heck of a lot harder to add that emotional sucker punch to a story which doesn't have one... you've got one. Well done!

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Just Damn Cute
 Post subject: Re: Autumn 'Hidden' writing contest comments
PostPosted: Fri Nov 23, 2012 6:05 pm GMT 
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An Elephant Story
I really enjoyed this piece. I agree with dvorak, kudos for elephant narration. The pace of this was prefect, the flow was wonderful. I could feel the slow, lumbering progress of the poor elephants as they wandered and searched. I could see the way they walked along in the grasses and just moved with land almost. Beautiful imagery, the way it all ties in to what they know, what is familiar to them, was just well done.

Hidden Lies
I agree with dvorak (again, I feel like I'm gonna say that a lot in these haha) I feel like because of the type of story it is, it's missing out on a lot of little details that would have given more depth to the story. But any more, and you would have run into the problem of being far too detailed for the type of situation we're in here. But it is intriguing, the way Lizzy lies to the girl for so long and then suddenly tells her everything and helps her to flee. What exactly did the girl say to finally get her mother to break? Was Lazare really so awful of a man that she needed to flee so quickly? So many questions left unanswered.

Workshop
Short, simple, sweet. I liked the idea of this. Though it was sad, to have art hidden away like that. But that they were so strong about, admitting to themselves that they were good, that they were worth the praises of the people even if the people were too blind to see that, that was lovely. That inner, hidden even, strength was the little dim light in the dark basement. Though it would have been nice to see just exactly how they were painting outside the lines of society though, to know what kind of art that they were producing that others just wouldn't be able to appreciate for what it really was.

Jane
I had a little trouble following the change in tenses as well. And it seemed rather short. But it did get to the point well. I know what it's like to be the nerdy girl over looked by the nice, cute guy for someone far more popular. So it hits home, certainly. Perhaps a little more detail would have also filled out the story some. Like more details on just how looking at him made her feel, not just the fast rush of her heart, but the way your brain goes quiet and everything seems so far away, that sort of thing. And conversely, how it felt to be rejected with no words. I'm still a little uncertain on where the theme is in this though.

Splinters and Ice
This was just lovely. Sad, yes, but so deeply human. I truly enjoyed the imagery, I could feel the cold, the way he clung to his life for just long enough. I'll be honest, despite the first person narrative, I was expecting him to die. But I was not expecting that he would be a ghost like that. So well done on that. Beautifully written and just wonderfully executed.

The Sight of Blackbirds
This was happy and sad in all the right ways. I really enjoyed the idea that her faith had hidden her the depth of her happiness from him. And as being of that faith, I can understand her stance, and see how frustrating that can be to an outsider, having seen similar in other relationships of mine. The grief he felt was so real feeling. So raw, even with the time he'd had to heal. Hurt like that doesn't go away overnight and you did an excellent job at portraying the depths of his pain and the way he's tried to adjust, without adjusting, and to cope with that loss.

----------------------

@MM: No you didn't misinterpret it, it was a romance between two soldiers. But it wasn't a totally sudden romance. There was a lead up of weeks, months even, before anything happened between them.

@Sergei: Thank you for oh so lovely comments. In my defense, for the differences between the beginning and end, is purely because I wrote that first part a couple of weeks before I wrote the rest, and was in a very different mindset at both times and so that's why it has a different sort of pace. And I didn't bother to rewrite the beginning to fit. Which I know sucks haha

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spud.
 Post subject: Re: Autumn 'Hidden' writing contest comments
PostPosted: Fri Nov 23, 2012 8:34 pm GMT 
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Hello :) I am the author of Jane- just thought I should clear that up since it didn't get posted anywhere :P

So, to address the issue of tenses... I'm usually a grammar Nazi, but this time around I was playing around with a different style, and as I was writing it I did, in fact, intend to write it all in present tense. But when the flashback came around, I figured that it would be incorrect to write that part in present tense too. Of course, I only noticed the tense inconsistencies AFTER having them pointed out to me. *facepalm*

As for the theme's presence, I figured that it would be more obscure than some of the other stories, but it was intended to be seen in Jane's attempt to hide how she truly felt, and the fact that to most people, she is insignificant, even invisible.


DVORAK: You quite literally almost made me cry. I think that I might start reading that regularly to give me the extra push for NaNoWriMo. Especially as someone that has never won any of these Lackadaisy contest things, I am so very appreciative of your comments :') And as for high school boys being high school boys, the locker incident is actually something that I've witnessed with my own eyes in a hallway, although perhaps not with the same eyes that Jane did.

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This is nice coat!
 Post subject: Re: Autumn 'Hidden' writing contest comments
PostPosted: Sat Nov 24, 2012 5:58 am GMT 
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Now for some more, long overdue feedback. I'll get to the last three... soon. So here goes:

Hidden in Lies

This story has a very interesting premise, and it couldn’t possibly fit the theme better in that respect.

That said, I think this story would have benefited more from a sole narrator, and more detail into the thought process of said narrator. Either Lizzy or her daughter would have worked just fine, even if one would have been more suspenseful than the other. The switch between the two is rather abrupt, and the girl’s revelation could have been more moving if it was written more in a showing, not telling, fashion.

There are little details, like why exactly Lizzy hated Lazare, that would be very interesting to know and would help the reader sympathize more with Lizzy’s plight. It’s also something of a loose thread that the twins were separated at all. Is that why Lizzy hates Lazare? Because he refused to accept both children and split them up? Or was there some other reason?

I’d also sort of like to know how Lizzy feels about her other children, though that’s not a detail strictly necessary for the story.
Making the time period a little more solid would also go towards pulling the reader in.

In short terms, I’m essentially agreeing with Dvorak on this one. You’ve got a lot of potential here, just narrow your focus and expand on that!

Jane

Everyone has already mentioned the case switches in regards to this story, so I’ll leave that alone. I honestly didn’t find that it bothered my reading of it that much.

I think the strongest aspect of this story is the atmosphere. You can really just feel that the narrator is a teenager, her internal conflicts and general misinterpretations of both her own feelings and the actions of others. All that confusion is just completely palpable. Add in her perpetual denial of what she’s actually feeling, and that’s pretty much a classic response.

On some level, I’d honestly like to know just how much she things of Travis is mistaken, and why he actually gives her the rose despite the fact that that’s not something the narrator would know. Perhaps he was just handing them out to the girls he knew in general? That’s something I’ve seen people do.

In that vein, for instance, when he refuses to take part in the looting of an unsecured locker. She felt he was displeased by it, and he didn’t actively take part in it, but he also didn’t stop any of the other boys from actually taking or destroying things. He didn’t even make them put anything back, or try to. I get the distinct feeling the narrator is seeing things through a filter fed by the books she reads, and that in and of itself is very human.

For my part, I also have a weak spot for subtle approaches to the theme. An internal struggle is perfect fodder for that, particularly one partly rooted in the subconscious.

------------

That said, I'm so glad you all enjoyed the surprise ending, and thank you so much for the high praise! I originally had something else planned for the ending, but I changed it literally at the last minute. It works a lot better as is, I think.

@MM: In regards to the theme, Max himself is the hidden thing, courtesy the blizzard.

@Artemis: You're welcome! Your story really is excellent overall, I just felt the need to point that out because it could be even MORE excellent. There's no such thing as too much excellence, after all. I've had the same sort of thing happen to me, too when it comes to writing of course. It's annoying how much difference a few weeks can make to how you write.

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Ahoy!
 Post subject: Re: Autumn 'Hidden' writing contest comments
PostPosted: Sat Nov 24, 2012 11:34 pm GMT 
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@Arty - Thank you so much! I can't say how happy your feedback made me. I'm so glad you found it genuine.

@sugarplumfairy - Oh gosh, I don't know how to react to such kindness except to say "Thank you" and awkwardly flap my hands around. I feel so flattered! And I wish you the very best of luck on your Nanowrimo... I made it to 30,000 words once, then caved under the pressure U_U

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"On a side note, dvorak, looks like the Pope is recognising your authority in Sainting people. Can only be one person representing God on earth at a time" -TFP


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spud.
 Post subject: Re: Autumn 'Hidden' writing contest comments
PostPosted: Sun Nov 25, 2012 12:35 am GMT 
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Joined: Sun Jul 17, 2011 5:28 pm GMT
Posts: 502
Location: BEHIND YOU!
Custom Title: spud.
@dvorak: It's all so very true though :D And as for NaNoWriMo, I've just broken 33,000... Pretty much the only thing keeping me going right now is "You've made it this far, there's no turning back now!"

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