Sunday, September 29, 2013

First 250 Words Smash! #35

Most Wonderful Author: Amanda
Most Evil Critique Master: Sarah
Working Title: N/A

As she lay on the ferns inside the hut, the strong smells made her almost unable to think of anything else then the pulsating of her head. She blamed the spices. The pulsating was loud, too. It made the Shaman’s messing mere background noises. Libise knew that if she opened her eyes a looked to her left, she would see her worrying mother. A look that had begun to appear more often on her face.

Technically, she shouldn’t be in there. The evil spirits in Libise’s body could enter hers, but her mother was only a woman who worried.

The Shaman’s awful messing stopped.

“Open your eyes.” He said.

She lay under a covered window on the opposite side of the door. The smoke from the spices he had burnt in the fire made the room smoky, even though most of it went out through the hole in the roof. The hut was clean of decoration. The only things there was the leaves she lay on, the fire and the sacks filled, some more than others, with the spices he used for predictions, blessings, curses, connecting with the spirits and, of course, for his beloved exorcisms.

Strong Points –
There’s definitely some interesting things going on in here. From the very beginning, the question of what’s going on is planted in pieces through the opening instead of forced, which is a good step. I like how each detail of the conflict builds, at first with the introduction of the Shaman, then that the spirits in Libise’s body can enter her mother’s, and then at the very end with the introduction of the word “exorcism”. I like that nothing of the conflict is addressed directly, but by coincidence, and that’s good!

Some Tips –
Firstly and primarily, some grammatical and punctuation formatting issues need to be addressed. I’d recommend looking up how to format dialogue, which is an easy task. Having someone who knows their grammar well read over your writing and mark up things that need to be tweaked will also help, such as the word “lay” and the first part of the last sentence, “The only things there was the leaves she lay on,” and I’m sure there would have been more things to work on if I had more than 196 words.

Secondly, the conflict unfolds well, but the biggest thing I’d recommend is the unpacking of details, specifically with description, and this also includes using stronger verbs where necessary.

Let me fish out an example. Right in the first line:

“…the strong smells made her almost unable to think of anything else then the pulsating of her head.”

“Strong smells” means very little. What kinds of smells? It could be anything from ash to rot – we don’t kno.

It’s almost fleshed out in the second line, which is a line that I like a lot because it reveals some of the character’s voice.

“She blamed the spices.”

But it stops short of elaborating. What sorts of spices? That’s another chance to unpack details, and specifying what sorts of spices will even allude to the setting more, such as climate and terrain. Cinnamon and eucalyptus and sage all tell different stories of different places. The word “spices” alone means different things for different people.

Let’s also tackle this line as another example:

“The pulsating was loud, too.”

This is the second time it’s referenced, but I still don’t really understand what “pulsating” means in this context. Is it just a headache? Is it a throbbing headache? Is it a migraine? How does it affect her, physically? Does it make it difficult to see? Does it make the light hurt her eyes? Does it make her nauseous?

Unpacking details is important, but just as important is unpacking how the details affect the character(s). This is what makes those details matter instead of creating a laundry list of things to drown the senses. It’s one thing to say:

“The bike gleamed almost too brightly, the paint smooth against my fingertips, the metal cold enough to sting.”

It’s another thing to say:

“The bike gleamed almost too brightly, the paint was smooth against my fingertips, the metal cold enough to sting, a promise that I could never afford it.”

Not all details will reveal character like this, but the way a character describes details still says a lot more than a laundry list.

It’s also good to be particular of the connotations of words used. “The hut was clean of decoration,” for example. The word “clean” made me also automatically made me picture a clean hut. This may not be the case for everyone, but it was definitely a word that momentarily threw me off.

In short, a good way to get into unpacking details is to read the more literary-type books that make every word count in every description. Practice doing the same, and then when you’re ready to write your story, dial it back or cater it to your own personal style and voice.

Would I Keep Reading?
Not yet, but I’d like to see it again once the technical errors are improved and description strengthened!

Hope all that helps! Good luck! ♥

Monday, September 23, 2013

First 250 Word Smash! #34

Determined and Courageous Author: MBWriter
Hideous and Monstrous Editor: Victoria
Working Title: N/A

“You know you’re going to change the future, don’t you? I just know it. You’re just too special to stay here your whole life. First, you’re going to go to the sea. Then you’re going to soar above it like a seabird. You won’t know it at first o’ course. You’ll glow brighter than any other. You’re my seabird. That’s right. I know you’ll be my seabird. Fly faster. Fly stronger. You, my little seabird.”
The village sat quaintly in a valley. The wind blew. Winter, though unwelcome, intruded upon everyone’s doorstep and begged to be let in, but no one would oblige. Everything appeared dead--abandoned. But there were glows that could not be seen from afar, a little life breathed into the fireplace of its heart. Though it was weathered, this small village refused to be swept away by the foe.
When it came to it, the village was not awakened when a foreign darkness intruded its sleep. It was another darkness that had seeped into the corners of its streets. The desert was too vast and flat for much of anything to escape the attention of this village, but still it slept on. To the human eyes, nothing had transpired. Nothing could be seen. It was, as it had always been, a desert village.
“Seabird…you’re my seabird.”
The mother’s soft voice was at first only heard by her son. However, the darkness intruded upon the unsuspecting corner house and then they were being watched...

Strong Points -
Wow! Some of your description is really great, and you have a style and a tone that is definitely all your own. It sets a certain mysterious and whimsical ambiance for the rest of the novel, which is really intriguing. I like some of the visuals you have in here, like the glow of the fireplaces, the deadness right before winter sweeps in, the contrast of a desert to the ocean  and a seabird. You have some really interesting concepts going on!

Also, the mother's dialogue is pretty distinct. She has her own way of speaking, and if you can do that for one character, I'm willing to bet you can give all of your characters their own individual voices. Well done! that can be a really difficult thing to accomplish.

Some Tips -
The main issue that really stuck out at me was that you use a lot of passive verbage. Sometimes that can be okay, but it would really strengthen your narrative if you restructured your sentences and made them a little more active.

What do I mean by that? Sentences like "they were being watched" and "the village was not awakened", instead of just saying "(something or someone) watched them" or "the village slept on". When you keep "was" or "had" in there, it puts more words in the sentence and sort of dulls the effect and turns your sentence into a passive one.

For a better idea of what I'm talking about, check out what WriteWorld has to say about passive vs. active voice here. They've covered it a lot clearer than I could ever hope to!

Also, I'm not really sure if this is just a lot of background information or if this is where your story actually starts. So perhaps you need to ask yourself if this is something we can learn as we go, or if this is really where the plot begins. Is this immediately relevant, or is this a character's background that we can discover when it begins to become necessary? That's not something I can decide, only you can.

Would I keep reading?
Oh my gosh this is a really tough answer. I still have a problem with not being sure if the story has actually begun yet. For now I think I shall give you the benefit of the doubt and say yes, if not just to answer my questions. But always feel free to resubmit! We love hearing back from our writers, and we hope to hear back from you!