Tuesday, March 19, 2013

First 250 Words Smash! #12

Courageous Author: Talya
Horrible Editor: Victoria
Working Title: Sightseeker

There was a dead man behind the funeral director. Jackson knew it was crazy; to claim a dead man was behind anything but a coffin didn't even make sense. But, as much as he tried to reason, the more he found there was no other explanation.

He barely breathed, the dead man, something that could explain the pasty blue tinge under his skin. His hands should have been pink, but were blue, just like his face above a line of red that circled his neck like a noose.  He barely moved too—inhumanly so.

Jackson couldn't help but to think hawk or, worse, vulture as dead loomed over living. Boy, did that spirit loom.

“Miss Walsh, if you need time to decide on a coffin, we most certainly can hold this portion off a bit,” the director said.

Maybe fat blocked feeling. The director seemed coiled in his fatness; rolls on rolls of fat bubbled over his collar, manifesting a chinless neck that could fold into three sections. Mighty rude, but who was Jackson to know how sensing the dead worked?

But if fat controlled astral detection, then that meant his aunt should have been screaming by now. Granted, she was close, but the reason was for what she knew, not for what she saw.

“Thank you kindly for the concern,” she said. Her voice cracked. “But we can’t keep holding off on things. The funeral will never get done.”

Strong Points

So between your older version and this one, this is much, much better. I’m pleased with the improvement you made, and this is a whole different story to me now! Your opening line is still a great hook, and from there it only gets better.

The description of the ghost is still wonderful, very haunting, especially when compared to a vulture that looms behind the director. You’ve painted a particularly vivid image of this thing and it is far from being human like it used to be. This thing gives me the creeps in the best possible way.

Jackson also has a particularly interesting voice, and he lightens the situation up with his internal commentary. His vision of the obese funeral director certainly spells him out as a bit of a douche, but almost an endearing one. His character is apparent right from the get go. ‘Mighty rude’ actually got a lol out of me.

Some Tips

You have a few parts in here where you can eliminate mentioning Jackson. When you have sentences that say things such as ‘Jackson couldn’t help but to think’ or ‘Jackson knew’. Since this is, for all that we know, from Jackson’s POV, we already know it’s Jackson who is experiencing these thoughts and sights. When you eliminate that, you put us one step closer to the action and the sensation instead of removing us from it.

Also, there are some adjectives that you don’t need in here. They only bog down your narrative. Things like ‘He barely moved’. This is unnecessary and clunky, and it doesn’t paint as vivid of a picture as you could with other, more definite words.

Really, you’ve improved so much that you took all of the advice I never got to give you. Everything I would have wrote for your first submission was eliminated with this one, so go you! My last bit of advice is yours to take or leave, as it’s up to you and Jackson, but I find he is very calm for someone seeing a ghost. Perhaps he’s seen more ghosts that we have yet to hear of, maybe he’s had other experiences that have conditioned him. I don’t know. But he is looking at a ghost and almost joking about it, which isn’t quite normal.

Would I keep reading?

My answer to the first one was yes, but this is a much more enthusiastic YES! I love your character, and I love how you’ve described the ghost. I very much look forward to more, and I thank you so much for resubmitting this newest version!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Reading Critically For Writers

An inherent part of writing well is reading well. It’s not enough to simply take good books and read them and love them to pieces – we do lots of this already. Honing our skills as writers depends on how much we write and how well we read.

Writers grow by switching on the critical eye and analyzing why particular books worked. Book reviewers often summarize the important elements of the story and judge whether or not the story worked for them overall. Literary analysis is more dissecting the text looking for themes and meaning and reflections of the author’s troubled love life.

Writers, however, can benefit from looking into the seemingly simplest elements, the tiny threads that weave together and form the entire tapestry. We first learn to speak by listening to others and imitating vocal patterns. We learn to write by imitating what we read, and we learn to write better by reading more effectively.

Here are some things to look for as you read:

  • What scenes of the story read faster than others? What parts make you turn the page without thinking and what parts give you the opportunity to stifle a yawn? Look for sources of tension or conflict, especially if either is steadily rising. Look for points in the story where characters move the plot, or the plot moves the characters.
  • Sentence flow carries a narrative. Follow how the author played with sentence length in both slower and faster scenes. Study their techniques in speeding up or easing back on the speed of the narrative. When were longer sentences used? How about shorter? What effect did it generate?
  • Look at the dialogue on its own, without any surrounding action or tags. Just the dialogue. Can the characters be told apart by certain nuances with speaking patterns, idiosyncrasies, or colloquialisms?
  • How are the surroundings described? What sorts of things does the environment reveal without ever directly telling the reader? Clothes, food, building materials, and even character? How does this indirectly reveal the setting? The time and place?
  • With a particular scene that carries a very thick, defining atmosphere or mood, look for colors and sensations. Look for word choices that carry a subliminal effect, the way the narrator or characters regard their surroundings. Even easily overlooked signs such as body language can make an impact.
  • Study how the five senses are utilized, as well as how creatively the author approached using the senses. If the author used any clichés, then in what way? Were the clichés redone with a fresh take? Used in an unexpected manner?
  • How did each chapter or scene or section carry the rising action? What moved the story from point A to B and how did the characters reflect this?
  • If the story had multiple points of view, how did each point of view differ? What was the tone of the language used? How did the various points of view carry their weight in the story? How did those characters impact the plot?
  • Why did you like a particular character? What made them appealing or rounder? What sorts of qualities gave them dimension? What scenes really elevated them from the page and turned them into real people?
  • Why did you not like a particular character? What had you expected out of them? Where did they fail to deliver?
  • What are the subplots? How are the subplots developing beneath the central plot? By the end of the story, how were the subplots solved?
  • How did the author tie off the ending? Were all your questions answered? Did you throw the book at the wall or cradle it gently to your bosom? How did the beginning and the end tie together? What was your lasting impression of the book?

There are a ton of other questions to ask as writers read, but getting started is key. As the critical eye develops, asking these questions will become a natural part of reading and it becomes easier to see more and more of the threads that compromise the story.

The biggest problem I’ve had so far is that the critical eye doesn’t seem to have an off button!

Monday, March 4, 2013

First 250 Words Smash! #11

Sacrificial Lamb Author: Yali Noriega || Peripeciasdeunaerreita @ Blogspot
Hungry Editor: Victoria
Working Title: N/A

It was early morning when Carmen woke up, the sunlight coming in through the bullseye their cabin had for a window. It seemed brighter somehow; perhaps it was the reflection of the water, or maybe it was all in her mind, but everything felt different. Last night at dinner, the Captain told his passengers they would be pulling into New York City Harbor early today and she had decided she wanted to be out on the deck to see it. The week long voyage was finally arriving, and she was more than ready to land. It was the beginning of a new life for her; she could not wait.

Carmen changed quickly, taking care not to upset the carefully packed trunk, slipped on her shoes and left her sleeping husband behind. She felt the chill, salty morning air, and it scared away what sleep was left in her. Carmen's eyes were wide with wonder: as fas as she could see there were buildings and construction sites, the statue of Liberty on a tiny island, an enormous expanse of land full of houses and, she imagined, squares, markets, parks, people. The city seemed to stretch all the way to the water and finish abruptly there. Except it didn't; the harbor was full of ships of all sizes, some docked, some moving. She was barely arriving and she already could already how busy this place was; it made her eager to begin this adventure, explore the city, make it hers. 

Strong Points--

 I think the second paragraph is your strongest. You create the best pictures in there, and we get the best sense of voice. Things like 'make it hers' and 'scared away what sleep was left in her' really give me the best details, even without you having to say much about it. They give your character voice and life. It also provides the most insight to Carmen. I'd have to guess, off the top of my head, that this is a historical piece from the words 'trunk' and 'markets'.

I also liked some of the imagery you painted for us. The idea that the city goes right up to the shoreline and then spills over as the boats, the tiny island with a big statue, the bullseye window with the bright light leaking in, those moments really help us visualize what Carmen sees.

Some Tips--

I hate to say it, but I would probably take out most of the first paragraph. It's mostly unnecessary, as the important details come in the second paragraph. We don't need to know she decided she wanted to be on the deck when they pull in--we know that by the fact that she's there. We don't need to be told that it's New York City, as the Statue of Liberty is a key indicator. Utilize that and cut out the things that we can learn later. There is so much potential here, and a tickling tease that makes me want to know why she had to come to the States to start anew, but everything is bogged down by the fatty edges. Trim that off and polish the hook of your opening.

Your character's voice shines when it's there, as I pointed out earlier. They give me an idea of who Carmen is and what she's feeling. But I don't feel it's in there enough. You have a great starting point, now feel free to embellish it with a little more of Carmen's personal flair.

Also, please avoid telling with things such as 'eyes wide with wonder'. The short description of her round eyes coupled with her whirring thoughts is perfectly enough. We as the reader want to feel her wonder, not be told that she is experiencing it. Another way to help this is to take out words such as 'felt' and 'saw'. Since this is more or less from Carmen's POV, we know she's the one feeling it and seeing it, and these words are just a middle man that bog down your sentences.

Would I keep reading?

Unfortunately, not just yet. I don't feel I have enough to really get me going, but I think that would be helped a lot by taking most of that first paragraph out. That leaves room for more 250 Word Smashes, after all.  But I am intrigued, so please resubmit if you choose to edit it! Pretty please?

<3 <3 <3 <3