Tuesday, January 29, 2013

First 250 Words Smash! #9

Brave, Bold Author: Cee
Terrible, Horrible Editor: Victoria
Working Title: N/A

Long ago, there was a maid, not a maiden.  She is fair, but more importantly she is brave and canny and just a bit mad.  Perched on the bed, grimy with misuse, she listens for the step on the stair.  She breathes and her hands still, slipping the stiletto within the casing of her corset.  Whore’s get, they call her.  Maybe they’re right; maybe her road always led here.

The door opens and before it can close, she has the man pinned against the wall, her knife at his throat and fire in her eyes.

“I will not.”

Defiant, she stares him down.  He’s young.  She hadn’t expected that.  Youths, they think they should get it for free until she reminds them, scarring words written in silver and blood across their hearts.

His hands raise, the fear raw in his eyes, and she’s not yet cruel enough to ignore a cry for mercy.  She pulls the blade back, a single bead of blood staining the fine lawn of his shirt.  He’s pretty, really.  

“Please.”  His voice is hoarse. “I mean you no harm.  So don’t kill me; I’m really rather attached to this body.  I have a proposition for you.”

In a flash, the knife is back.

“Not that!”  He flails, trying to evade any further nicks or worse.  "If I swear to any God you wish that I have no intention of touching you, will you put the damn thing down?"

Strong Points--

 You wasted no time in getting to the action, which is a really good way to hook us into the story. It's all too easy to start a story with exposition that we think is important, but you didn't do that. Good! I'd much rather dive right into the story and find out what the heck is going on as we travel ahead!

Also, we get a good sense of character asap. Your lead female, her actions speak volumes about what kind of girl she is and what kind of awful things have already been done to her, as well as what they've turned her into. It also shows a lot about the boy that he's willing to do just about anything to not get slain, so he's kind of a pansy, but that's okay.

You've snuck a few good descriptor words in there, such as the 'grimy' bed and mentioning her corset (which can really set what sort of time period this may be happening in).

Some Tips--

I found a lot of telling. 'She is fair, but more importantly she is brave and canny and just a bit mad', 'defiant', and 'she’s not yet cruel enough to ignore a cry for mercy' for starters. These are things that would be so much more powerful if you showed us how she does this, as opposed to just outright telling us.

In fact, I think this article that WriteWorld did on showing vs. telling does a much better job than I could, so check that out! It will help strengthen your narrative and make this exponentially more wonderful.

Also, I would highly suggest changing your first line or two. They're right there in cliche territory, and it's best to avoid those at all costs. I do appreciate the comparison to a fairytale, and the stark contrast between a fairytale setting and what we have here, however, I would prefer to see it done in other ways, such as your themes, your situations, your characters, and some twisted tropes.

More imagery would also greatly help me visualize what I'm seeing. I already pointed out some good descriptors, now push that. What kind of room is she in? Is it dark or light? What does 'pretty' mean to your character in regards to a boy?  There's so much information a setting can give, so utilize that.

Would I Keep Reading?

I think I may, as I'm intrigued by your main character. Who doesn't love a bamf? I think that if you fix these things and resubmit, though, I will be begging you to read more. They will turn an okay opening into a punch in the face.

A good punch in the face.

Good luck, and please resubmit!! <3 <3 <3 <3  

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

First 250 Words Smash! #4x3

Most Wonderful Author: Kendra || Hintsloveswords @ tumblr
Most Evil Critique Master: Sarah

Previous submission:

Tavia clutched the hard hunk of bread and dried meat strips to her chest as she darted through the countless pairs of legs, her small mouth stretched in a grin. Nothing could dampen her excitement, not even the few people swatting at her when she bumped into them. The bronze and copper coins jangling in her pocket made her do a little skip in delight. She felt rich. The coin, along with the food, was going to feed the two of them for at least two weeks. Jorah was going to be so proud of her!

She was heading into the most crowded part of the market street now, and she had to slow down in order to get through. Merchants and workers alike shuffled through the street, eyes downcast and dull, faces drawn and streaked with dust and dirt. Their clothes were tattered and dirty, just like Tavia’s. Her own sturdy coat had holes worn in the elbows and her trousers in the knees. The men and women around her paid no attention to the little beggar girl running in their midst, and Tavia liked it that way. Jorah always told her that the less notice you got, the less likely people would hurt you. Tavia was glad that she was so small, able to slip through crowds without so much of a second glance.

Finally Tavia happened upon the small abandoned building that she and Jorah called home.



Tavia ran from the furious voice, ignoring the shrieks of indignation as she pushed people out of her way. She stumbled into someone’s cart, scattering a small pail of vegetables. The cart owner stared at her in shock as she stuffed her prize back in her jacket and scrambled onto the street again.

Tavia glanced back over her shoulder to see her pursuers gaining on her. She grinned at their enraged expressions. The leader, a big, bald man who looked like a thug, saw her grinning and shook a fist.

“Come back!” he roared, face flushing crimson in rage.

Tavia laughed and bolted down the nearest alley, hardly thinking before turning another corner. She wove through backstreets and alleys randomly to throw off her pursuers.

All was well until Tavia skidded around a corner and nearly collided with the very men she was trying to avoid. All of them were shocked for a moment and stood there staring at the other. Tavia recovered a split second faster than the men and recoiled out of reach. Just as she turned to run again, one of the men bellowed, “Get her!”

Tavia’s heart was pounding in fear now. There was a very real chance they would catch her. She started to run, but a huge weight hit her from behind and threw her to the ground, the weight landing on top of her.

Strong Points –
Your progression over the past months is killer and I’m so glad you resubmitted. I can see real jumps in the evolution of your writing in regards to strengthening your prose and building on your action. Seriously, your chain of events and the flow of it all is more substantial and the pacing is perfect, plus you’ve broken out of your passive tic (though I still think “Tavia’s heart was pounding in fear now” would read better in its simplified form, “Tavia’s heart pounded”). I’m just floored by how you’ve been taking in writing advice and reciprocating it!

Some Tips –
From here, I’d recommend you invest in beta readers/critique partners to take over the smaller quirks and overall content if you haven’t already. Having various eyes critique you, as well as learning how to critique, will give you more propulsion for improvement. Here are a few things I can help you with:

Use fewer simple verbs. In this case, avoid these words: ran, pushed, turning, hit, etc. You’ve got some strong verbs in there already, such as “skidded” and “scattered”. These are great words, but also try to avoid overused/clich├ęd or vague phrases like “enraged expressions”, “who looked like a thug,” and “shook a fist.” As an example, you do a better job with “enraged expressions” by describing the leader with “face flushing crimson in rage.” Still, I encourage you to push your creativity further and experiment more with facial features and gestures that reveal individual character and expression! “Furious” and “rage” and “fear” can be replaced with stronger descriptions.

I also want you to work a bit on giving small doses of the environment like this and like this. Tavia is entrenched in and reacting to her environment enough in the beginning that the reader needs to generate some sort of preliminary image of what things look like, and then later on in the story you can refine it when the action slows. Work on developing those little clincher details to breathe life and color into your world.

Lastly, I noticed four out of six paragraphs begin with Tavia!

Would I Keep Reading?
My response hasn’t changed from your previous revision. As I mentioned, find some critique partners! Your writing has evolved dramatically and I think it’ll evolve naturally as you work on content and structure. Keep it up!

And of course, plenty of !

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Some Help On Picking Character Names

The names of a cast of characters can say a lot about the author. Because my parents gave me a very simple, extremely popular biblical name for my generation (as in, when walking down the hall at my high school and someone called out “Hey, Sarah!” about three heads turned in response), I tended to give my characters odd names that I had never heard before.

The problem was that I knew nothing of the culture from which the names were borrowed.

While critiquing, I’ve identified other inherent problems, such as having a cast of simple English names and one token ethnic name, or a fantasy setting with keyboard smash names that look like drunken Welsh slurring.

Names are a lot more than basic labels for your characters, but don’t require the selling of any souls. Here’s a handful of suggestions to possibly consider as you name your characters:

  1. Ask your character what kind of name they want. They might take what you gave them and change it anyway. Say their parents named their little girl Sally, but she tells you she’s transgender and wants to be called Sal, or maybe change the name altogether even without your permission.
  2. Similarly, names affect how characters identify themselves and how other characters identify each other. A character with a very unique name might be very conscious of it, or they might wear it proudly. A secondary character might misspell or misspeak your character’s name, maybe intentionally or unintentionally.
  3. Try, if possible, to avoid common modern names. There’s nothing like reading a book and constantly associating the main character’s name with your second cousin who pulls the wings off of bees (unless, of course, your character IS the second cousin who pulls the wings off of bees).
  4. Or, it might just be that your character has to have a common modern name for whatever reason. Don’t despair if they do. A current trend in naming babies is to alter the original spelling of a name. This is a good way to differentiate your character and make their name more memorable, but be certain it’s realistic that whoever named the character is/are likely to do this.
  5. If you’ve picked a name and grown attached to it, and then read a book that uses the exact same name, don’t panic. If this is without a doubt the name of your character, then leave it as it is. When your book is published, it will most likely be several years after the book you’ve just read (on average, it takes 1.5-2 years from a publishing contract to the shelves). Don’t worry about it for now and write on.
  6. But if you’re super worried about it, try giving your main character a different nickname. For example, Elizabeth can be Beth, Liz, Lizzy, Liza, Eli, or Eliza.
  7. Don’t get too caught up in the meaning behind names unless the culture of your character forms names around the meaning. Your character is likely to give the name new meaning by the end of the story anyway. As an example, when people hear the name "Hermione", the first thing that comes to mind isn't how the name is derived from Hermes.
  8. Often a trap that I’ve seen writers fall into is naming a character after something prominent and/or universally symbolic, which will then play into the story. An example is the character who betrays the main character having the name of Judas. Don’t do that. Even if Judas doesn’t betray the main character, the reader will spend the whole book waiting for him to.
  9. If you have a fantasy setting, base it upon actual history to create a realistic foundation. Look at the way names were formed, from what, and why. (As an example, the names in pre-colonial Southeast Asian kingdoms were influenced quite differently than the names in Europe during the rise of the Catholic Church.)
  10. If you have POC in your cast, make sure you’ve done all your research and fully understand the culture and its history before you look at names. Also consider the generation of your character. If they’re the second generation to live in the States, then they might have an English first name, or both an English name and a name from their heritage. A country that was heavily colonialized might commonly use English, Spanish, or other European names already.
  11. Make sure you understand how the language and the formation of names in a particular culture work. I took Chinese in both high school and college, but my professor admonished me for creating such an unattractive, nonsensical Chinese name for a project. It forced me to question the names of all my Chinese characters (and also the origin, because common name dictionaries don’t differentiate between particular regions and dialects of China).
  12. Don’t be daunted by the aforementioned if you have characters with cultures unfamiliar to you. Research is an inherent part of writing, and effective and adequate research forms a solid and realistic foundation (or interpretation, in the case of fantasy) for your characters. Make sure you’ve done more than enough before you even start looking at names.

Don’t stress yourself out over the naming of a character. If you pick one and decide it just isn’t working, then try again. With a first draft, perfection is the enemy. Do all your necessary preparations beforehand and don’t be afraid to get it wrong as you write. That’s what revision is for. And if a critique partner suggests you change a name, remember it's all inevitably up to you.

Besides, when you get your literary agent, he or she may tell you to change the name you worked hard to choose anyway. Then you might decide to flip all the tables and start the process all over again.

What other suggestions do you guys have with hunting for names?