Friday, August 30, 2013

First 250 Words Smash! #33

Most Courageous Author: Megan || Novels @ Wordpress
Evil and Slimy Editor: Victoria
Working Title: The Nightlings

The grave had changed in the last month: like Monday's life, it had acquired an air of abandonment around it. The January snow had already begun to cover the hill of dirt that once told Monday where to find her friend, but Monday had visited the grave so often that she knew its location by heart. As she stood in front of the grave, surrounded by the dead, she marveled at the fresh headstone and envied the dead girl. The headstone was a shock. Until this morning, Monday had felt like she was in a fog, that the death wasn't real, but the arrival the marker this morning had made it surreal. Monday realized, in her weakened hungry state, with no home to go back to, that for the first time in her seventeen years she longed for her own headstone and to join her friend six feet under.

But then who would look after the dead?

Every morning since arriving in Syringa, Monday woke up in one of the abandoned mausoleums. The snow had made the graveyard cold and isolating. To pass the time, Monday started to tend to the dead; she would clean the leaves off the graves, push away snow, and polish the head stones. The Syringa cemetery was beautiful, with snow covered lilacs cascading over the hills of tombstones, the trees blocked the sun letting in only slivers of light. This was the perfect place for Monday to hide; but it also made her lonely.

Strong Points-
First of all, let me commend you for doing an excellent job at describing the cemetery. I really love how you've mentioned the canopy of trees, the lilies left on the graves with the snow settled onto them, and how you make sure to mention that Monday is very conscious of the fact that she is surrounded by the dead. It's a very chilling and grim atmosphere, but it puts us right into what kind of story we will be reading from the very beginning.

Also, instead of dumping a whole slew of information or background story or world facts on us, you've slipped it in here and there, giving us just enough to want more as you begin where the story should begin. That's really hard to learn how to do, so this is awesome!

Some Tips-
Mostly what I'm going to knock you on is a lot of telling. You tell us things like Monday is lonely, that the snow is isolating, and that Monday is hungry and weak. I want to know these things, but I want to know what they feel like to Monday and not how I imagine they feel. For example, does her hunger make her dizzy? Do her hands shake or do they just feel like they're too heavy to lift? Hungry is just a word. I can put some feelings to it, but they won't be nearly as vivid as what you choose to describe.

Just as well, lonely is just a word. If you describe the hollow feeling caused by loneliness, or how long it's been since she's spoken aloud or how much she wants to see someone, even just a few words will give me something more to put to Monday and how it resonates in her. Not only that, but it gives me a better idea of what kind of person Monday is without you having to outright tell me.

Also, I think you would benefit greatly from taking a better look into dominant impression. You've already started doing this with the headstone and the graveyard, but sharpening those budding skills would really, really help this out. Essentially this is how the character interacts with and interprets their surroundings. What they do with it, what they feel about it, and the details they notice that others perhaps might not pick up on.

For some help on dominant impression, Sarah just posted a writing exercise on the KSW tumblr, so this is pretty perfect timing! Check it out, I really think you could benefit from it.

Would I keep reading?
Yes, I believe so! I really like the dark and dreary thing you have going on with Monday, and I'm curious about her situation. And, turns out I can keep reading! So any others who are just as intrigued with Monday as I am, head on over to Megan's Novels where she posts the chapters of her story to keep her motivated. Great idea! But don't be shy, if you ever want to resubmit, we'd be glad to take another look at your intro!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

First 250 Words Smash! #32

Most Wonderful Author: Kristal
Most Evil Critique Master: Sarah
Working Title: Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

Somewhere between the sour lemon tang of afternoon kisses and the dusky ochre tinge of morning sex lies a world of pain we have yet to explore.

It takes time, she once said. It all takes time. It took time for her to open her eyes in the first place, because she wanted silence more than she wanted me. Silence is so much louder when sight is shut out.

You aren’t her. This I know with an age-old conviction that reverberates through my spirit-bound bones. You aren’t her and you’ll never be. But I stay with you (and you with me), for, without each other, we are no one.

I was no one when she left. I think she stole my soul, all quiet-like, when she slipped away in the tangelo dawning hour. She trailed the barest essence of me in her wake. What she left behind—what you see and taste and feel and hear—is a burnt out shell of something. Something you love for the sake of love. Something that cannot love you back.

But ink is dear, and I am rambling. Come, let me tell you what she would have wanted you to know.

Strong Points –
Oh man, the writing is absolutely gorgeous. I mean, I was hooked with the first part of the first sentence, “Somewhere between the sour lemon tang of afternoon kisses”, and I was like, the array of feelings that such a combination of words communicates just got me. And also, I absolutely loved this whole thing:

What she left behind—what you see and taste and feel and hear—is a burnt out shell of something. Something you love for the sake of love. Something that cannot love you back.

This communicates SO much by withholding specificity, by casting shadows, and it really stuck with me.

There’s such command of the mood as well. I can feel it in every sentence, even the smallest sentences, like “You aren’t her.” I love it, and I love the lyrical cadence and the organic flow of the sentences. And voice? Yep. The character voice develops subtly, under the surface, in such phrases as “quiet-like”. You really utilize ambiguity in a captivating way and I love it.

Some Tips –
Minor tweaks are all I see, craft- and style-wise. You have a poignant style that translates right away, and this is really tough to do in the first few paragraphs unless you really know and have a handle on your style already. So, in that regard, I definitely can’t critique it. The only thing I can really help you with is tell you how I see the story you’re weaving – or, my translation of it, in a sense.

Lyrical writing, while beautiful, demands that the reader read slowly to take everything in. Consequently, the pacing of your story is that much slower. If this is what you’re aiming for, then good. Go for it. Just keep in mind that prose that casts shadows like this will cause your readers to take more time to digest the narrative. I, for example, read some lines twice because I liked them that much, or I read twice to make sure I got every detail as clearly as I could.

Secondly, the way the writer addresses “you”, along with such lines as “lies a world of pain we have yet to explore” and “Come, let me tell you what she would have wanted you to know” are part of the “reminiscing” opening type trope, or the “addressing the reader” opening type trope, or “rambles” as the writer calls it, that often straddle the cliché.

If the “addressing the reader” theme, or the general second person POV, continues on throughout the narrative, then this might be okay. If it’s a one-time thing, I’ve often seen openings like this get cut because they’re sort of like unnecessary introductory bits that stall the reader from getting to the actual story. In a sense, it’s sort of like cushioning for “dramatic” or “mysterious” inflating, like talking up the reader to get them interested instead of simply giving them the story. “I’m going to tell you about the story before we actually get into the story.” If used incorrectly, this tool can actually take away from the story. So, be aware of that. I definitely can’t speak for yours since I only have the first 200 words, but it’s absolutely up to you in the end.

Also, since you sent in your title, I’m definitely going to advise against using a cliché. (I’ve seen clichés used well before, sure, but usually it’s in an ironic sense.) Of course, this is subjective, and people often argue that a cliché is a cliché because it works – however, a cliché is also a cliché because it’s been used too much and has lost its edge. Clichés are best when freshened up or used in an unexpected way.

Would I Keep Reading?
Most likely. I love the writing to pieces, but, personally, the “telling vs. showing” aspect of the intro and the title leaves me a bit wary. I’d want to give it a chance, at least, and see if the “telling” aspect is pervasive. Otherwise, for me, this is definitely the type of writing that I’d mark to remember.

Good luck! ♥

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

First 250 Words Smash! #31

Most Wonderful Author: Bianca Taylor
Horrid and Wretched Editor: Victoria
Working Title: N/A

I close my old cracking copy of Romeo and Juliet. I know it is cheesy for a guy to read a romance but I have had this small leather bound copy since I could read, and it is the only possession of my mother I have. Constant reading from past owners has caused the yellowing pages to crack and tear. I have read it hundreds of times but never all the way through. I always stop at the same quote “Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight for I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.” Behind the fading highlighting, these words appear preserved in history. I do not know why, but I have always had a connection towards those hundred-year-old words. I imagine her reading, and reaching this specific point in the story. Somehow, it touched her. Touched enough to cause her to damage the book in the most permanent ways. Similar to the way they touch me, causing me to read them repeatedly, and leaving the best romance of our time left unfinished in my hands. 

Strong Points-
 Well instantly your main character is so very endearing. Not even just for the fact that he's reading a romance, but more for why he has read it so many times. The question of his mother is definitely the hook in this passage, and the way that your MC has to feel connected to her because he doesn't seem to have her in his life any longer. Not to mention the way he can never read past that one particular line, that's a pretty interesting detail.

You described the book wonderfully, too. I love the detail put into the yellowing pages and the cracking binding and the old highlights that are beginning to fade. I can very vividly picture this book, and it's definitely the key for this opening.

Some Tips-
First of all, you should definitely find some references on when to break a paragraph. That's more a grammatical thing, so I won't go into it too in depth, but one long paragraph gets really tiring on the eyes and confusing. Each separate thought should be its own paragraph. Not only does this help with the actual act of reading, but it also emphasizes each thought on its own, as opposed to running them together.

Oh man, it's pretty hard to find stuff since this is such a small passage. I'd say make sure you inject other descriptors like you did with the book. How exactly does he imagine his mother? Give us the same visual that he has, since it's something that's so dear to him and will tug on our heartstrings like it does for him.

Unfortunately, that's all I can give you right now! You wrote this passage really pretty well, it's just that it's so short and so compact that there isn't much else I can decipher!

Would I keep reading?
I think so. I'm almost there. If you gave me just a little bit more, I think you would sell me, because I find your main character just so very cute. So please, if you would, resubmit and I'd be happy to read again! I can't wait to hear more from you!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

First 250 Words Smash! #30

Fabulous and Fierce Author: Shannen
Drab and Uncool Editor: Victoria
Working Title: N/A

I can only imagine what it must feel like, waiting for news, hoping for the best.
Time slows down as you wait. Your hands are in your hair and your eyes, bloodshot and puffy from crying. You drown your blood with caffeine to stay awake, and you pace back and forth for hours, walking off the sleep. You check your watch, every few minutes or so, wondering what’s taking them so long.
Finally a nurse calls your name.
It was my first day in third grade and I was pretty happy to be back in school, even after having confirmed that Joanne did in fact change schools. Since kindergarten, every single one of my ‘best friends’ transferred schools after a year of being with me. After my second best friend left, the disappearance of the third was no surprise.
I took my seat by the window, and I waited for classes to start. The sooner we start, the sooner I get to go home. Familiar faces made their way to their seats in front of me, behind me; away from me. It’s alright.. I’ll have more space for myself this way. My annual mantra.
Nobody liked me; it was obvious, and I wasn’t really keen on finding out the reason. Maybe I’m breathing wrongly, or writing wrongly, or eating wrongly, or walking wrongly. Maybe they don’t like me because Mommy always looks bad, but I’m not allowed to tell them what happened, or Daddy will hit me again...

Strong Points-
 The third grader's worries very nicely set up some questions for us without outright telling us what is different about your character. We just see that it looks like your MC has worries that they're not like everyone else, and that it seems they've been taught to act like a human being. Are they not human? Is that why they had to be coached? Why do they always lose their best friends?

These are really awesome questions! I really like the set up and I'm super intrigued by what your MC actually is! What happened to mom? I want to knowwwww.

Some Tips-
Your best description is in the first part, and it definitely set the mood and put some pretty nice pictures in my head. I didn't put it in your strong areas though because I'm going to suggest you cut the whole first part. It's jarring to move from the intro into the story, and it distracts from the more important plot points you have going on in the very beginning of your story. You don't need that extra bit. Your story is plenty interesting without it, and I'd much rather read about what's happening with your MC.

So, that said, I'd rather you take more description and inject it into the scene you're left with. There really is nothing but some exposition going on there. It's important exposition, but I want visuals to go with it. How vividly does your MC recall being in third grade? How much do they remember about their class room? Does it bring back nostalgia? Or does the memory conjure up bad feelings? Simply telling us 'I was happy' doesn't give me much. It's almost sort of sterile. Now, if you describe what happiness feels like to your MC, I have a much better idea of what kind of person they are, even when they were a little person.

Also, consider reading others and look at how they weave exposition into the story. You did some of this, and that's awesome, because no one wants an info dump at the very beginning of their story. That bogs it down, makes people feel like they're trudging through all of the details they need to understand what they're reading. But readers are smart. They can figure stuff out if you give it to them in hints and teaspoons as you go.

Another suggestion is that you don't have to worry about italicizing your MC's thoughts. It draws more attention to those words than may be wholly necessary, and it might end up being distracting. Since you're writing this passage in first person, everything is their thought. This is all one story told in their thoughts. You are permanently in their head, so you don't need to separate or signal out what they're thinking.

Would I keep reading?
Not just yet. But I am really curious to see what's going on with your MC and, after how much description you put into the first part, I know you can do some really good things with your writing! So please resubmit, I'm dying to revise this once polish it up some more! <3 <3 <3 Thank you so much for letting us see your writing!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

First 250 Words Smash! #29

Monster Author: Taylor || Bowtiesandriversongs @ tumblr
Tasty Little Morsel Editor: Victoria
Working Title: Discord of Ages Past

Smells of whiskey and wine fill the air; sounds of laughter and drunken chatter fill the space in-between. He’s sits at the bar, alone. His eyes dart around the room, searching for someone. Anyone.
Alistair swirls the contents of his glass. His glass is long and boxy. Winter mint green with a hint of syrupy caramel. It’s dark and fizzy, unlike the rest of the drinks that sit on the tables and in the patrons’ hands.
Bartenders mill around behind the bar, cleaning glasses and fixing drinks. As one of them passes by, Alistair holds up his glass.
 “Can I get a refill, please?” he asks.
The bartender, a young male, snatches the glass out of his hands. “What would you like?” he asks, his eyes roaming his body lazily.
 “Root beer, please.”
If the boy had any skepticism on why he was at a bar just drinking root beer, he didn’t voice them. “Want anything else in it? Rum, Jack Daniels….”
 “Just root beer,” he snaps, maybe a bit too sharply.
The filled glass slides down the bar a few moments later, but when he raises his lips to it, the blatant smell of Rum rises to his nostrils. Making a face, he sets the glass down. Damn bartenders. 

Strong Points -
There's some really strong characterization in these first paragraphs. How interesting that he's only there to drink root beer, and yet he's looking for 'anyone', which gives me the idea that he's looking to not be so alone.  But he's not exactly the nicest guy, and all these conflicting pieces put together make a character that I'm increasingly curious about. Good job there!

You also drop nice details about the setting in the first paragraph. The fact that he hears people having fun while he sits alone only emphasizes how empty the chair next to him is.

Some Tips -
You probably know by now that I advise everyone to cut down on dialogue tags. Some are fine. There's nothing wrong with having them here and there. But I find writing to be a bit stronger when those details are explored. You don't have to stay on it for much longer, just a few more words to express perhaps how annoyed Alistair feels, or maybe when he hears his voice and realizes he sounded sharper than he meant to. Those tell me even more about Alistair.

You've already done this elsewhere, replacing basic verbs for one that tells us more. A good example of what I mean is having the bartenders 'mill around'. You could have said they're walking around, but that verb is so basic. You used 'mill', and that gives me a much better picture, that gives me more description and even contributes to the atmosphere, all with just a different word. That's awesome.

The reason I didn't include this in your strong points is sometimes, the words you chose didn't quite match up with the rest of what you were describing. When the bartender snatches away the glass, I think it's a sharp move, almost hostile, but then he's giving Alistair the sexy one-over, and his dialogue doesn't implicate any ill-feelings or the like. Does that make sense???

Also, watch out for sentence fragments. I used to abuse the heck out of these, and I had to be taught that there is a place for them, especially in faster-moving scenes where you want shorter, clipped sentences. Here it's okay to indulge in a little extra padding for some description or the like. Example, I really liked the description that went into, "Winter mint green with a hint of syrupy caramel". But because it's just a floating fragment, I'm not sure if you're describing the glass, or the liquid within the glass, or the contrast of the glass and the root beer.

Would I keep reading?
Yes, I believe I would. I'm not 100% certain, but I really liked the characterization of Alistair, and I do want to know more about him and his situation and his root beer. For a more solid answer, I would love love love to see a revision! So don't hesitate to ask any questions for elaboration or to resubmit, because I hope to see more from you! <3 <3 <3

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

250 Words Smash! #28

Most Wonderful Author: alynnidalar
Most Evil Critique Master: Sarah
Working Title (kind of): Hope of a Far-Off Land

Astrith fled through the streets of Praeston, dragging her best friend Nolus behind her as she tried to maintain the exhausting misdirection spell keeping the city guards off their tail. He stumbled on a gap between paving stones, but she yanked him upright, almost off the ground, and they were off again, pushing through the evening crowds packing the market district. The heat and humidity felt almost unbearable, but she couldn’t stop, couldn’t let the spell drop, couldn’t think about nice cool water and ice and snow and—

She crashed into the corner of a stand selling fish, sending brakenlaegan everywhere, the fishes’ silvery scales flashing in the dying rays of the afternoon sun. The spell faltered as she stumbled over one of the fish, blinking as she came back to reality. The hrata fishwife noticed her with a start and let out a yell, shoving a customer to the ground to lunge for her as she shouted about wizard thieves. It was Nolus’ turn to save them then, sidestepping adroitly to send the merchant stumbling past into a clump of surprised humans at the next stall. They took off again, not looking back at the chaos they'd created.

“Are they gaining on us?” Nolus, a hrata, was much shorter than her, barely half her height, but he doggedly kept up with her long stride, his bare feet pounding the sun-warmed stone of the plaza with at least two steps to each of hers.

Strong Points –

Well, I can definitely already tell that I’m going to like these two main characters. I don’t know what it is, which is probably awesome in itself. I think it has something to do with how I like the roles they’ve had so far. I like their partnership, and, I mean, I’m a sucker for characters that work together, especially in high-tension scenes. It’s one of my greatest weaknesses.

Also, I like their names. They’re pretty cool.

There’s also little tidbits of detail in regards to setting and world building, but I’ll get more into that down below!

Some Tips –

I already want you to revise and resubmit to me, because if you’ve been hanging around the Tumblr blog since you sent in your intro to us, you might have seen the pacing exercise and a couple tips on writing fast-paced scenes. I love pacing and I know it well, and I think both these posts will help you restructure the pacing side of your intro.

As an example, long sentences with many commas will automatically make reading and comprehension slower. Brief sentences keep things crisp and dicey. Finding a balance between the two will help make the passages fast and also flowing.

Secondly, that moment where the fish scales catch the light draws a strange amount of attention to the fish when the attention should be on the chase, or on the path straight ahead. This sort of leads me into my biggest point.

The world terminology and laws trump the physical setting description. There’s sooo much in the first 250 words, and yes, it’s important, but during a chase scene, the description should focus more on the where and less of the why. The intro tries to teach the reader so much in as short amount of time as possible, when I’m trying to make sense of where these two characters are running and what the place looks like around them.

There’s no need to explain everything at once. Supply it with time, focus on what the scene is demanding of the setting. Readers can fill in gaps or make guesses until the best time for organic elucidation happens. Then, explanations can be given more effectively as well.

As an example, I wasn’t sure what “hrata” was, but given the context of how it was used, I assumed it was a curse word, as in “The damn fishwife”. When I got to Nolus’ description, I had to take a step back and go, “Wait.”

So, in short, I can see a lot of potential once the pacing is fixed and the information isn’t so rushed. Try the exercise, see the comparative examples I wrote so you can get a better feel for how short and long sentences affect the pacing, as well as gaining a sense of words that carry the most weight in regards to describing just enough to create a blur of a picture. You don’t need much. Just enough. Then, I want your resubmission, yes I do.

Would I Keep Reading?
Not yet. Strengthen your narrative so I can say yes.