Wednesday, March 21, 2012

First 250 Words Smash! #1

Most Wonderful Author: HNW
Most Evil Critique Master: Sarah

I wasn’t alone – there was a presence in the night, a definite other that lurked, hidden, between the silky black folds of an almost unnatural twilight. I heard it whispering to me in the wind, felt it touch my bare cheeks, tug at my hair, its breath against the back of my neck. Standing in the center of the crossroads, the small tin box shaking my hands, I didn’t know what was worse – being alone and isolated miles away from the protection of my family, or being in the presence of this other. I certainly didn’t want to be out there with it, but I had no other choice – this was my only opportunity to set things right, to fix everything, and put it all back to the way it was. The way it should be. 

Dad always told us we should never go to a crossroads at midnight, because that’s where the Devil waits to trick foolish people into selling their souls. But I knew exactly what was I doing – the Devil couldn’t trick me if I was willing to give my soul to him. He could have it – it was broken and ripped up anyways. I was willing to do whatever was necessary to put things back to the way they were, to stop the dawn from approaching.

Sinking to my knees onto the cold and frozen earth, I clawed a hole in the dirt just big enough to fit the tin.

Strong Points
Intrigue. Yes, I felt it. There is a sense of something looming, and an effortless sense of voice and character. I like the feeling of this intangible yet palpable second being, gives this sense of something WATCHING her, and I like that creeping feeling.

The question of “What the heck is happening?” is generated. The scene is set up without delay. The reader moves right into action without confusion, and the action doesn’t feel like action for the sake of action. In less than 250 words, I’ve got a subtle sense of the surroundings, the character, and the situation. This is a good intro.

Some Tips
The points that I think need work are also some of the things that I like best, things that I think could be made even better.

I like that we’re feeling this omnipotent second presence, but try to stay away from words like “I felt” and “I heard” or “I saw” or “I tasted”. Words like these remove your reader one step away from the sensations you’re creating. You want to suck in your reader as deep into your narrative as you can, and any words that remind them they’re reading a story will hinder your intent to do so.

“I heard it whispering to me in the wind” is stronger as “It whispered to me in the wind.” And, of course, you can even take the phrasing further, get creative, really push it if you want to. I’m sure you could sift through your whole manuscript and find a plethora of these ticks. Challenge yourself to rework your sentences without them. You’ve got the skill in you, I can tell, it’s just a matter of really recognizing it.

The next thing: italics. There’re lots. A heavy emphasis from italics is exhausting to read, and it’s actually better to use no italics at all than too many.

One trick I use is that I put in all the italics I think I need while I write, and then when I go back to reread, I read the whole sentence without any italics. If the sentence’s meaning does not change without the italicized word(s), you don’t need the italics.

As an example: “You took her panties?” versus “You took her panties?”

See the difference? The story behind the two sentences is completely different.

The next thing: dashes. The same rules apply. Dashes can do awesome things, like change the direction of action or provide insight, and they’re fun for dialogue. However, too many, especially when some sound like replacements for colons or semicolons, is not mustering the potential of the almighty dash.

Instead, try putting periods in exchange for dashes (or periods for semicolons, because semicolons give me hives and it’s my personal mission to eradicate them). Your very first sentence, for example, would stand so much stronger as simply: “I wasn’t alone.”


First sentence.

How could you turn that down?

There’s so much power in brevity. The last sentence of that paragraph is a good example of both brevity and, coincidentally, the best usage of a fragment: “The way it should be.” I, the reader, want to know what that means. What is the way it should be? What’s going on?!

Would I Keep Reading?

Most likely. The beginning does read a bit prologue-y to me, but I would most likely read until the conflict is resolved, unless the more substantial premise of the story drags me right in. In this case, I would certainly test the waters and continue further.

This is a strong piece, and it can be made stronger. Good luck

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