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! ♥

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