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  1. #1
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    Default Ok Cats, another read it and rip it thread.

    Recently, while playing Guild Wars 2, Esfires inspired me to write a book. He just finished the one he had been working on, and he gave me some great advice. So, after mulling it over for a while, I finally decided that I would attempt to write an urban fantasy book that I had been thinking about for quite some time.

    I'm not going to bore you with a gigantic wall of text. I'm only going to post the first one thousand words of the first chapter. I'd like your thoughts be they good or bad. And fuck you, you can't do what I do:

    -----


    It started with a single reoccurring dream. For nearly every night of my twenty five years of life, I’d never had a dream that I could remember. There was one time when I was twelve that I was woken up after I’d been convinced that I fell to my death after stepping off a gigantic toilet seat. Freudian explanations notwithstanding that was the only single dream that I’ve ever remembered. So, I knew something in my life had changed when the dream started.

    The first night the dream came, all I could remember was staring into the precipice of a vast and dark cavern. Around me was an overgrown and alien appearing forest. Trees were twisted fern-like messes in the rich colors of deep fall that branched off into a multitude of directions. There was a deep seeming of familiarity with the flora, though I knew somewhere in my consciousness that they resembled no earthen counterpart. Yet, they hardly registered that first evening. I stood in a clearing, surrounded by the strange and intimate trees, facing a large pool of darkness. There was an irresistible urge to step forward into it. The sort of insane urge that we all get when looking down from a very high place. We all know we won’t leap to our dooms, but the imagining of which is nonetheless primal, compelling, exciting. A wild thrill of panic surged through me as I took a step closer to the edge of the hole. Abruptly, the dream ended.

    I woke that morning overwhelmed with esoteric feelings. Well, that and the imagery of the inviting dark space. Both haunted me throughout the day, like a tag team duo in a professional wrestling match. I attempted to distract myself with work, music, and talking to my co-workers. It was a rare thing for me to attempt embracing the purgatorial life of cubical-hood. Maybe, I felt like dwelling on it would cause me to ask questions about my own life that I wasn’t ready to evaluate. I knew that my life had not gone the way I planned. Whose life does? It can be a precarious psychological teeter-totter when you start asking about how happy you are or aren’t. I was balanced in that blissful place of contentment, neither particularly happy nor sad. If I was unfulfilled, I didn’t know it and didn’t want to know it. Something had changed though. Something was now different. The balance was lost. I knew unequivocally that I was going to have to begin evaluating my past, present, and future. And I couldn’t figure out why.

    For the next few days I felt as pointedly hollow as the open blackness of my dream. Lingering existential questions moved from the periphery of my thoughts to front and center of my consciousness. I could barely drag myself out of bed to my now overwhelmingly unfulfilling job. Why did I want to go to that useless place anyways, to continue the same droll routines, and listen to the same unchanging complaints of everyone around me? My life had clearly turned out wrong. When I tried to ask myself that silly question you always hear folks say they were asked at an interview, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” I could do nothing but draw a blank. What was worse though was when I looked back at the previous five years nothing had changed. I was still single, still slightly overweight, still wasting all my free time with video games. As painful as it was to admit it, I also knew that I didn’t have the energy to do anything about it.

    Eventually, one morning, my will to force myself through another day of monotony broke. Naturally, I did the responsible thing and called in sick to work. There was no need to get out of bed. In fact, I decided at that moment that I would be quite content to quietly just pass on from the world right there in my bed. As I sat there in bed, staring at the wall, sleep came. The sharp landscape of the peculiar twisting trees came sharply into focus. I was once again overwhelmed with the veracity of the scene. Long scarlet vines spun around amber trunks in impractical formations. Leaves the color of dried blood sprouted randomly from vine and trunk alike. For all my effort to stand and study these marvelous trees, I felt the call of the abyssal cavity behind me. Once again, I was reminded of being up high. Only, this time instead of facing the plunge, it was behind me lapping at my heels. A cool cold draft blew up and caressed my heels. Slowly, carefully, I turned to face the darkness.

    Before me, the mouth the seeming endless darkness yawned. The pit had grown considerably larger. Leaping to my doom didn’t feel exciting this time around. It seemed like it would be a mercy. A part of me hoped that I would die if I stepped into the dark. Maybe I could escape the meaninglessness of life, with yet another of my multitude of meaningless actions. That thought was fitting I decided. Here was a perfect power off button for the video game of my life. I started to feel pleased, even a little ecstatic at the thought. I pressed forward toward the edge spreading my arms. As I stood at the edge looking into the darkness, a final mote of hope-filled-doubt crept into view. It was a shining lime colored beacon in the shape of a crescent moon. I was instantly stilled in my tracks, and in fact, stumbled back a few steps. The moon grew considerably larger, hurling through the darkness at me with a ferocious speed. Slowly, my mind began to recognize the pattern of this strange bright green moon of hope. It was a cat’s eye.

    “MRRAAAWWRRR”

    Instantly, I jolted awake. My cat Tux stood on my chest glaring down at my face. It seemed improbable, but his eyes looked like they were full of molten green anger. I reached out to pet him, but he expertly maneuvered and shied away from my touch. Then he promptly stormed off to the edge of the bed, turned back to give me one more angry glare, then leaped out of sight.
    "Doubt is not an agreeable condition, but certainty is an absurd one." ~ Voltaire

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Ok Cats, another read it and rip it thread.

    I think your concept, from what I can see of it in this excerpt, is fine. The choice of first person works particularly well with urban fantasy, especially if you want to take it in a noir-style direction. The writing could use a lot of work, of course, but that's normal for where you're at.


    Some tips:

    - In general, you use too many adjectives. Adjectives themselves aren't a bad thing, but they're like seasoning in cooking. Use them to enhance what needs enhancing, otherwise leave them off.
    - Avoid filtering. "X looked like Y." "A appeared to be B." We should be seeing things through the eyes of your character. Your character, especially in first person, isn't going to think, "It's seems improbably that my cat looks this angry." He's going to be thinking. "My cat is pissed at me for some reason."
    - Description is good, too much description is bad. You have too much description. Tell me what I need to know to set the scene, but less is more. It's better to quickly give the emotional gist of the scene than to go through it piece by piece and give me a detailed picture of the landscape. Whenever possible, let the reader fill in the details for himself. When I say is a forest is "dark and foreboding," that instantly brings a picture to your mind. And it is a much better picture than if you actually describe the forest for 3 paragraphs before I come to the conclusion that you're trying to tell me that it is dark and foreboding. That being said, a little description is fine. I want to hear the particulars, just not too many. This is just something that you're going to have to learn with practice, and its different for every writer and reader. Writing is 80% science, but this is part of the 20% that is "art."
    - This is a very important one: The paragraph is the basic building block of writing, not the sentence. Each paragraph should present a single idea that you're trying to get across. The sentences within the paragraph all play a part in constructing that idea. If you start a sentence in a paragraph that doesn't directly reinforce the purpose of that paragraph, either leave it out or start a new paragraph. Fiction isn't like your middle school English class, your paragraphs don't have to be exactly 3 to 5 sentences. Let the paragraph be exactly what it needs to be and move on.
    - Drawing back and looking at the big picture, you don't really have much going on in this scene, especially for chapter one. The first chapter has to make me want to read the second, but very rarely is it the quality of the writing that entices the reader onward. What makes me want to read on is conflict, story, something happening. A dream is generally a no-no to start with because it has no impact. It's not real, and as a reader I don't really care about your character's dream if I don't even care about your character himself, yet. That being said, the conflict you introduce in the beginning doesn't have to be big. The first chapter of my own book starts with a boy trying to save a rat from drowning in a rain barrel. That's not exactly end-of-the-world stuff. But by the end of the scene I've kept the reader's eyes moving down the page, and in the process I've introduced one main character, the setting, and set up a hook that leads to the bigger story of the book.
    - Your chapter also needs to end with a reason for me to look at chapter two. As it is, there is an overall question in the story (that being: what the hell is going on with this dream), but in the down-and-dirty narrative the chapter wraps itself up completely. You need to have a little tail at the end. Give me an unanswered question, an ominous statement, something that makes me want to turn the page.
    - Internally, a chapter is a little story. It needs to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. A narrative structure. The end still has to leave something hanging, but it should bring some kind of conclusion to the "scene" that you have just given me. As it is, this chapter doesn't have a story, yet. It just seems to bounce from one topic to the next.



    That may seem like a lot of criticism, but its actually all very basic stuff. The good part is that its stuff that everybody fails at in the beginning. If you actually stick with this and make an effort to learn and put what you've learned into practice, then you should be able to look back at this in a week (if not a day) and be appalled at what you wrote. That's a good thing. I probably spent 4 months writing the first 30k words of my book over and over and over again, because every time I got to that point I would look back and, having 30k words more experience than when I'd started, I'd see all the things I'd done wrong and have to go back and fix it.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Ok Cats, another read it and rip it thread.

    Thanks again Es. That's exactly the kind of feedback that I want to hear.

    That wasn't a chapter. I literally just copied 1,000 words from the first chapter and posted it here. That is partly because I want to revise a lot of the first chapter, but also because if I post any more than that no one would read it.

    I don't think you can give me too much criticism, because I know I need a lot of work. I'm going to work on a revision with the stuff you've already mentioned and come back here with it.
    "Doubt is not an agreeable condition, but certainty is an absurd one." ~ Voltaire

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Ok Cats, another read it and rip it thread.

    Note this is NOT a complete chapter. This is still only a sample of the first chapter. I've made a lot of changes based on the feedback that I've gotten so far.

    Let me know what you guys think (Better, or Worse, moving in the right direction?):
    ---------------------------------------

    It started with a single reoccurring dream.

    For nearly every night of my twenty five years of life, I’d never had a dream that I could remember. There was one time when I was a kid that a nightmare woke me up. All I could remember about it was falling into a massive toilet. Freudian explanations notwithstanding, it was the only thing I had to contribute when folks began discussing dreams. So, I knew something in my life had changed when the dream started.

    The first night the dream came; I remember standing in a clearing, staring into a dark pit. Around me was an overgrown, primordial forest. The trees were thorny and twisted fern-like messes in the rich colors of deep fall. There was a deep seeming of familiarity with the plants, though I knew they resembled nothing on earth. A gray fog hung lazily about, blocking out the sky.
    None of my surroundings could hold my attention. All that mattered was the pit. I had a crazy urge to leap forward into it. The sort of insane urge that we all get when looking down from a very high place. We know that we won’t leap to our dooms, but the imagining of which is nonetheless exciting. A wild thrill of panic surged through me as I took a step closer to the edge. I wanted to see if there was something below.

    Abruptly, the dream ended.

    I woke that morning with a foreboding feeling of loss. Well, that and the mental image of the gaping black hole. The sensation felt like I just got dumped. Though, I’d only ever had one girlfriend in my life, the familiarity of getting dumped was unmistakable. I had been punched in the emotional gut. There was shock and a bit of surprise. My future suddenly seemed empty, unimportant. Numbness set it, and getting ready for work was suddenly a struggle against futility.

    Still, I managed to arrive at work only five minutes late.

    My boss Malinda, a pasty white, overweight, fifty-something, career bureaucrat was waiting at my cubical. She stood there frowning, dressed in a hideous green jacket with matching pants and her characteristic neatly permed hair. As usual she stunk of cigarettes. Great this is exactly what I need, I thought.

    “Jack, I just checked my messages. I didn’t see a late call from you. “, she proclaimed in the disgusting hoarse voice of a lifelong smoker.
    “Sorry, I don’t have any excuses” I said demurely.
    With what could only be a grimace of triumph, her pumpkin face split open and she said, “Well, I’m not going to write this down, but you’ve officially been verbally warned. Don’t let it happen again.”
    “I won’t.”

    A sharp pitched laughter reminiscent of a hyena broke out down the hall. Bridgette, Malinda’s best friend, and my co-worker, moseyed down my aisle wearing an obnoxious skank top, whilst talking loudly on her cell phone. She continued her conversation lightly strolling past the two of us, clearly just arriving to work.

    Malinda pointedly ignored her and finished, “Good. I am responsible for the integrity of this department. If people just come and go whenever they please, what kind of supervisor does that make me?” Leaving both a literal and figurative stink, she waddled off.

    I stood there defeated, looking down at the cramped work space that I’ve spent the better part of the last three years sitting in. Apparently, Malinda had left me more than just the joys of her company. There was also a stack of corrections to a report that Bridgette had been working on last week. From an initial glance, I could tell that I was going to have to stay late to finish this new assignment. Probably, I wasn’t going to be taking a lunch either.
    Last edited by Zavon; 10-27-2012 at 04:32 PM.
    "Doubt is not an agreeable condition, but certainty is an absurd one." ~ Voltaire

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Ok Cats, another read it and rip it thread.

    Much better, the only thing I really saw wrong with it was the fact that you were using entirely too many adjectives to describe everything.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Ok Cats, another read it and rip it thread.

    Alright dude's here it is Chapter one in its entirety.

    Chapter 1

    Part 2:

    -------
    True to my prediction, I didn’t arrive home until about two hours after I was officially supposed to be off of work.

    As unfair as it all was, I didn’t mind too much. While keeping myself busy with work, I was able to stop from thinking too much about the depression that had welled up after the dream. Though, I’ll admit that a spike of rage did flare up when I saw Malinda and Bridgette leave the office twenty minutes before the day was supposed to be over.

    Ignoring my feelings was the only course of action available to me. This sudden onset of depression left me with a box of questions I didn’t want to pry open. I knew that my life had not gone the way I planned. Whose life does? It can be a precarious psychological teeter-totter when you start asking about how happy you are or aren’t. I was balanced in that blissful place of contentment, neither particularly happy nor sad. If I was unfulfilled, I didn’t know it and didn’t want to know it.

    The balance was toast. I felt like shit.

    I ate a peanut butter jelly sandwich, fed my cat and went to sleep.

    The next morning my will to force myself through another day of monotony broke. Naturally, I did the responsible thing and called in sick to work. Tomorrow, I’d get reamed by Malinda. Today, though, there was no need to get out of bed. In fact, I decided at that moment that I would be quite content to quietly just pass on from the world right there in my bed.

    As I sat there in bed, staring at the ceiling, sleep came.

    The sharp landscape of the peculiar twisting trees came sharply into focus. I was once again overwhelmed with the veracity of the forest. Long scarlet vines spun around amber trunks in impractical formations. Leaves littered the ground and sprouted randomly from vine and trunk alike.

    For all my effort to stand and study these marvelous trees, I felt the call of the abyssal cavity. Once again, I was reminded of being up high. Only, this time instead of facing the plunge, it was behind me lapping at my heels. A cool draft blew up and caressed my heels.

    Slowly, carefully, I turned to face the darkness. Before me, it yawned deep and wide. I was standing directly at the edge, exactly where I’d left off in the previous dream.
    Leaping to my doom didn’t feel exciting this time around. It seemed like it would be a mercy. A part of me hoped that I would die if I stepped into the dark. Maybe I could escape the meaninglessness of life, with yet another of my multitude of meaningless actions. That thought was fitting I decided.

    I peered further over the edge.

    As I stood at the edge looking into the darkness, a mote of light crept into my view. It was a shining lime colored beacon in the shape of a crescent moon. I was instantly stilled in my tracks. The moon grew considerably larger, hurling through the darkness at me with a ferocious speed. I stumbled backward, afraid. Slowly, my mind began to recognize the pattern of this strange bright green moon. It was a cat’s eye.

    “MRRAAAWWRRR”

    Instantly, I jolted awake. My cat Hermes stood on my chest glaring down at my face. His eyes looked like they were full of fiery green anger. I reached out to pet him, but he expertly out of reach. Then he promptly stormed off to the edge of the bed, turned back to give me one more angry glare, then leapt out of sight.
    Despite being confused by my cat’s behavior, I felt like a giant weight had been lifted off my soul. The depression had somehow been downgraded from a tornado to a dust devil. I definitely was in no mood for talks about where I saw myself in the next five years or anything like that, but at least I didn’t want to waste away in my bed anymore.

    So, I got out of bed and attempted to salvage my day off. I was ravenous.

    Before heating up a TV dinner, I gave Hermes some treats. He walked into the kitchen to receive them, all transgressions apparently forgotten. I was given permission to pet him for about two seconds, while he sucked down the treats in vacuum fashion.

    While I ate my soggy microwaved food, I flipped aimlessly through my recorded shows. Nothing seemed particularly interesting. Shortly after, I checked my phone. As usual, I had no texts, and no missed calls.

    But, there was a notification from a dating site! Apparently I’d been given a response from one “ladytronfan”. I fired up my profile, and clicked on my inbox. While the phone loaded the page my heart began beating fast.

    It was safe to say that my success with women amounted to getting up off the couch, cracking my knee really hard on a table and then hopping around on one foot. My biggest success was also my biggest failure, that left me hurt and at a disadvantage, apparently, with all future women.
    Further, dating was hard. Online dating was a minefield. Every so often I’d get a somewhat pleasant response. Occasionally, though, someone would blow into me with pure vitriol. At this particular junction on this particular day, I knew I didn’t need that. I readied myself for rejection.
    T
    he message loaded. It said, “Hi! Thx for the sweet message :-) U aren’t the kind of guy I usually go for, but I’m willing to give it a shot! I hate spending 2 much time on this thing, soooo how about u give me a text. My number is 555-867-5309, TTYL, Gabby”.

    I beamed.

    I reread the message seven times, just to make sure it wasn’t a joke. Then, I checked her profile and read everything I could about her with a critical eye. I memorized her favorite types of food, and her favorite books. I found out “Ladytron” was a band, her favorite band. So, I listened to every song they recorded. Researching Gabby ended up being such a pleasant diversion that I forgot about the dream.

    My evening passed fairly quickly and left me in good spirits when I got into bed. Hermes was waiting in bed for me. This is odd, I thought. Normally he didn’t like sleeping with me because I thrashed around
    too much. I reached over and turned out the lights.
    Instantly, I was back in the dream forest. I had somehow moved away from the pit.

    A flash of black near my feet caused me to jump back!

    It was Hermes. He sat on his backside nonchalantly sniffing the air. Upon realizing he had my attention, he stood up stretched in only the full bodied way a cat can, and started walking toward the forest. Gently, I walked behind him through the clearing.

    After a few minutes, we both stopped next to a large stone embedded in the earth. He looked up at me then lay on his side to begin the arduous task of cleaning his paws. I glanced back to the stone. It was covered in a series of spiral engravings. The decorations made me think of some kind of weird Celtic barrow I’d seen in an Art History class.
    From behind the stone I could hear the soft babbling sound of a small stream. Slowly, I leaned forward to look over the stone, into the clearest water I’d ever seen. A soft coat of frost drifted throughout the water of the pure stream. It crashed against the stone, which I then realized was directly in the path of the stream. I suddenly felt confused. If the water hit the rock, shouldn’t it have run off in another direction? It didn’t. The water simply hit the stone, and went nowhere.

    Without thinking about why, I leaned into the side of the stone and pushed. It tipped over much easier than I thought it would. Water began lightly flowing into the clearing. Then without warning, it began rushing into the clearing as though the stream had been transformed into a river. It smashed passed me, creating a new path directly toward the pit. I stood there in awe as the water reached the edge then plunged off into the darkness.

    The forest was transformed back into my bedroom. I looked down to see my hands trembling uncontrollably. A deep feeling like ice cold water began running through me, as though it had been injected directly into my bloodstream. I screamed out in horror but no sound emitted from my thrashing body.

    Then, everything went black.
    Last edited by Zavon; 10-27-2012 at 11:33 PM.
    "Doubt is not an agreeable condition, but certainty is an absurd one." ~ Voltaire

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Ok Cats, another read it and rip it thread.

    Very far to go, still. But very much improved.

    - You're starting to get the hang of paragraph structure, which is a huge deal, so that's good.

    - The paring down of the description is an immense improvement, keep working with it. Remember to only tell us the details that we need to know, the things that make your "dark and foreboding" forest different from all the other "dark and foreboding" forests out there.

    - You need to keep an eye out for redundancy. Redundancy tends to take two forms at the foundational, sentence and paragraph level:
    1. Redundancy in description. This is where you use two or more adjectives where one is sufficient. i.e. "yawning deep and wide" (if you describe the pit as yawning, we can already assume that it is deep and wide), "abyssal cavity" (this ought to be apparent, as an abyss is already a cavity. I understand what you're trying to say here, but it's best to find another way to do it. Keep in mind that an action can serve as a substitute for straight description. Perhaps your character throws a rock down the cavity and never hears it hit bottom).
    2. Redundancy in action. "Instantly, I jolted awake." (Jolting already implies the "instantly" part).

    - This is a bit of a tough one: Keep in mind that we don't need to know everything about an action or object before we are introduced to that action or object. What particularly made me focus in on this, and what I'll use as an example of the larger point, is the sentence that begins with, "My cat, Hermes..." This is too conversational and, besides that, it leaves us no mystery. Fiction is not a list of events, not a piece of journalism. Fiction is not the writer talking at his reader, it is the writer holding out his hand to the reader and pulling him along. In this phrase we have no way for the reader to interact, nothing for the reader to figure out, nothing for the reader to do. You handled it much better farther down the page with the paragraph that begins, "It was Hermes." In that particular paragraph we already happen to know that Hermes is a cat because you told us earlier, but if we didn't already know it then the paragraph would still work very well. You give us Hermes' name, describe some behavior, give some physical description, and by the time all this is over we know that Hermes is a cat. But you never actually came out and said, "Hermes is a cat." You didn't have to. You said it by showing us that Hermes is a cat instead of telling us. It is this show vs. tell hump that is one of the biggest hurdles new writers face. It is one of the few dividing lines that separates freshman writers from growing writers. It is also one of the few "Thou shalt not break this" rules that get tossed around a lot on writing forums and in writing books. That rule being: Show, don't tell. Now, you'll also hear something that is even more true: There are no rules. So instead, think of it as a guideline. There are times to show, and there are times to tell. But there are a lot more times to show than to tell.

    - You're also using a lot of what is known as "passive voice." This means that instead of saying, "The forest transformed back into my bedroom," you tend to say, "The forest was transformed back into my bedroom." In the first example, the forest takes an action. In the second example the forest is passive while an action happens to the forest. The first is better, as passive voice generally lends to a flat and passive narrative. This is another of the "big rules," like show vs. tell, but it is one that can be much harder to catch as we all do it naturally. One of the biggest indicators of passive voice is the presence of a form of the verb "to be" (am/is/are/was/were). You'll usually see this in the form of "X was Y," or "A was B-ing."

    - It feels to me like the whole dream thing is moving a bit fast. If I was writing this, I might not have the "everything went black" moment until the second or third chapter. We need some kind of normalcy introduced in the character's life before everything gets upended. The problem with this is that normalcy is boring. You need to find a way to take us on a tour of what "normal" is for your character, while still introducing conflict and leaving us tantalizing clues that something bigger is going on. This is easier in a book with multiple points of view as we can have character A going about his daily routine while we see character B plotting to bring it all down on his head. It's a lot harder in a first person book, where you typically only have one point of view throughout the whole story. Essentially, your one point of view has to do double duty in this case. A good urban fantasy example of this would be Neverwhere, by Neil Gaman. It's not first person, but it still only has one point of view. Take a look at the first few chapters and observe how the character has a normal, if unsatisfying, life, but we still start to see things happening that are a bit odd or out of place.


    All in all, your mechanics are much better. I would advise that you crack open some books by authors you admire and take a real close look at how they write, paragraph to paragraph and sentence to sentence. Then take a look at authors you "don't" like and do the same. You'll find a lot of similarities, even from vastly different styles. The mechanics of writing are fairly common across all writers and genres. We all use the same materials and tools, we just use them to build different things.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Ok Cats, another read it and rip it thread.

    Thanks again Es! I really appreciate you taking the time to do this. Every time I read your feedback, I feel as though I'm able to make it read better. I'd rather correct these mistakes early on
    "Doubt is not an agreeable condition, but certainty is an absurd one." ~ Voltaire

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Ok Cats, another read it and rip it thread.

    Trying a totally new approach:

    Never mind, the format is too screwy. I don't feel like messing with it right now.
    "Doubt is not an agreeable condition, but certainty is an absurd one." ~ Voltaire

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