Monday, December 30, 2013

First 250 Words Smash! #41

Most Wonderful Author: Jinny Jones @ Tumblr
Most Evil Critique Master: Sarah
Working Title: N/A


“Why do you wear a hood all the time, even indoors?” she came right out with it and covered her nervous expression with a sip of her coffee.

“I’m a very private person. Why do you keep yourself so closed off from others?”

“I’m afraid of being abandoned and hurt. What are you hoping for out of this, you don’t strike me as the normal dating type, what’s really going on here?” she raised an eyebrow and he chuckled freely, carefully placing his cup back on the table.

“My, aren’t you perceptive? I’m not so sure you’re ready, though if you can tell that easily I suppose it won’t hurt. You are correct. I am not the typical man seeking courtship from you. I’m something else entirely, but the real question. Are you willing to find out what that something is?”

She could feel the heat even from the shadows of his hood, that darkness allured her. The shadows made his face invisible yet she swore she could see a lopsided grin at times in the darker shades of black. She could never be certain but in that moment, she felt heat from his hidden gaze and it was a heat solely for her.

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!


The constant, monotone alarm was once welcomed by her mind, now it was nothing more than a warning of deep sorrow and regret. Reaching for the nightstand, she killed the insistent beeping and dropped flat on the bed once again.


Strong Points –
I like that we begin with action right away. This is definitely a big plus. The dream also generates lots of interesting questions that easily carry my interest past the alarm clock. Above all, I’m wondering if she realizes she’s dreaming, or if the person she’s having her dream date with is someone she has encountered before, or if that she knows he actually exists outside her dreams – all those questions. This is a good thing if there’s the necessary unpacking, of course! In terms of creating conflict right in the intro, this does a good job. There’s a lot to think about and a lot to store away while reading on.


Some Tips –
The first thing that quickly got me was the sentence flow. Many lines were jarring and inorganic to me. I suppose this would have something to do with punctuation, but I’m also leaning heavily upon transitioning from one thought to another.

Traditionally, a sentence introduces an idea, and when a new idea is introduced, the first sentence ends and the next sentence begins. Of course, personal style and voice slices and dices and beats the heck out of this rule. But the writers who do it well are writers who acknowledge why this rule is a rule.

Here’s an example of where it’s not working:

What are you hoping for out of this, you don’t strike me as the normal dating type, what’s really going on here?

Each of the above clauses can make three separate sentences because they’re three different ideas.

What are you hoping for out of this?
You don’t strike me as the normal dating type.
What’s going on here?

The first clause is really its own sentence to me. I feel the second and third clause aren’t properly joined by a conjunction, or some other transitional word or punctuation mark. Here’s an example of what I mean:

You don’t strike me as the normal dating type, so what’s really going on here?

Or:

You don’t strike me as the normal dating type—what’s really going on here?

It feels like the second and third clause are utilizing the comma as a semicolon, which would still, I think, technically be incorrect? Because the two ideas don’t feel related enough. But, of course, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m definitely not the all-seer of grammar and punctuation.

Anyway, let’s take another example:

I’m something else entirely, but the real question.

This sentence is very jarring. The transition felt very unnatural to me, and the ending felt like doing a seatbelt check on all the passengers. Total whiplash. With a sentence like this, I’d be expecting an em dash, or even a colon. Something that flows naturally into the next thought.

Technically, without the right punctuation, this sentence reads like he’s saying he’s something else entirely, except the real question. As in, he’s not the real question. This can easily be misinterpreted.

As a final example:

I’m not so sure you’re ready, though if you can tell that easily I suppose it won’t hurt.

This is an example of where I felt the sentence read clunky, and I had to read it slowly because of the phrasing. I also thought it read a bit informal compared to the previous sentence.

But, I still think this goes back to flow and punctuation. The way I ended up reading it in my head was more like this:

I’m not so sure you’re ready—though, if you can tell that easily, I suppose it won’t hurt.

My own punctuation placement is stylistic for myself as well, but what I mean to show is exactly how I had to read it in order to understand. The em dash is a long pause, a sign of transitioning from one idea to a similar idea. The commas are brief pauses, and in this case, a split infinitive. Not everyone likes split infinitives, but in dialogue and close POV, they’re perfectly believable if done well.

Nextly, I’d have to say that when my alarm jolts me awake from deep sleep, my reaction is usually a bit more exclamatory and a bit less reflective. When I wake up from sleep, I’m still trying to figure out what day it is and where I am and, heck, even who I am. So I felt the main character’s immediate reaction unrealistic.

(Also, as a side note, since “BEEP! BEEP!” sort of speaks for itself, there’s no need to reiterate “The constant, monotone alarm”.)

The final thing I’d suggest is unpacking. I didn’t get a good dose of description because of the action, which is fine in this case. But “deep sorrow and regret” is a good example of telling versus showing, and we’ve talked a lot about that in previous Word Smashes (I’d recommend checking out 25x3, since it goes into more detail, but I’d also suggest checking back through other Smashes as well).

Mostly what set me back was the style. I can see it trying to come through, and it’s almost there, it just needs some tweaking and fine-tuning. Some good practice will take care of that. Also, I almost forgot, but make sure to check out the proper formatting of dialogue!


Would I Keep Reading?
Not yet. Practice, practice, practice, and do lots of critical reading of your favorite books to see how authors write dialogue to make it look natural. Really study how they use their punctuation, as well as when, why, how, and etc. Then, get some of your writerly friends or well-read friends to read your stuff and see if things are flowing smoother.

Hope that helps! Good luck! ♥

Thursday, December 12, 2013

First 250 Words Smash! #40

Fortieth Author!: Carly P
Not the Fortieth Editor: Victoria
Working Title: N/A


Music and the bodies of fairies form a circle on the hill. The dancing begins with twin royals of the daoine sidhe, Dubhlainn and Aoife. Together, they stride to the center of the circle and begin to dance. As they turn, they drift apart, fingers brushing palms. They go to the guests and each selects a new partner.
Freya gasps to herself when the beautiful daoine princess pulls her into a swirling dance. Could she know that Freya, one of the ianann sidhe, wasn’t meant to be here? If she notices, she doesn’t seem to mind.
Dubhlainn searches the crowd for a partner. His gaze falls upon someone with dark hair that falls down his face and with cheekbones like cut glass. He can’t place a name to this boy, but he has the feeling he’s seen his before and he guesses he must work for the royal court. When Dubhlainn takes his hand, he notices his hands are rough and are laced with small burns. A baker, perhaps? Or was he related to the royal blacksmith? Dubhlainn focused on the dark eyes in front of him as every guest began to dance. He leaned toward the boy slightly, and whispers, “What is your name?”
“My name is Aedan. It’s good to meet you, Dubhlainn.” They both smiled.
The night was warm and they were caught in a whirlwind.


Strong Points --
Well I love me a good fairy story, let me tell you. I love seeing the whole fairy court and all of the impossible to pronounce Gaelic (at least for me) and I'm so excited for this. You've got some really nice description in here, the cheekbones like cut glass, and the mention of fingers brushing across palms as they separate. I like these little details you've snuck into the narrative, because they raise questions, especially the burns on Aedan's hands.

Some Tips --
That being said, I really wish more details have been injected here. I know we're at a ball, but I have no idea what a fairy ball might look like, and I have no hints or clues to go by. Are there decorations? Do they wear big dresses? Do they wear nothing at all? I don't know any of this. Everything has largely been left up to my own imagination, and it's left me with blank, white surroundings. As with the royals (twins?). I don't know what they look like. I don't need paragraphs and paragraphs, but this is a whole new world for me, and without that sensory description, I have nothing to translate how magical this realm is supposed to be.

Also, there is a lot of telling, a lot of unloading exposition where we do not need it. A perfect example is Freya, who we've been outright told she should not be there because of what she is. For me, this could have been communicated so much stronger through body language, through Freya's body chemistry and her fear, and then later revealed when it's necessary to know. It certainly raises its own questions, but telling us instead of showing she shouldn't be there kills the potential for a great look into her character.

For example, are Freya's palm's sweating? Is she watching the rest of the crowd over Aoife's shoulder to see if anyone notices her for what she is? Or is she so captivated by the princess that she forgets to be paranoid? Does she trip? Is it effortless to fall into step with Aoife? I would have known so much more about both of them and their situation with some more detail, and I would have become more attached to the characters themselves. Telling bypasses all of this, and just presents me with a fact that's a little colder.

Would I keep reading?
Not yet. Unfortunately, I really feel you have to slow down and take the time to weave more details into your narrative. It's a tough thing to do, to balance sensory details, characters, and the plot all at once. Our suggestion is always that you read. Read, read, read! Read your favorite authors and  figure out how it is that they paint a picture, let you know the character, and still keep you dying to know what happens next. And then we'd be so happy if you resubmitted! Thank you so much and good luck!


Saturday, December 7, 2013

First 250 Words Smash! #25x3

Most Wonderful Author: Kaitlyn Noble
Most Evil Critique Master: Sarah
Working Title: The Underground Prince
History: Previous Submission || First Submission


Previous Submission:

One moment I am laughing with my father. The next thing I know, the castle I call home is a war zone.

Father tells me to go into my room and lock the door until he says it is safe. I can hear in his voice that he’s scared but trying to hide it, so I hide my own fear and stand a little straighter. Right after I agree, father runs down the hall with my uncle towards the armory. I obey my father’s orders and run towards my room, excitement in my veins that there’s actual fighting going on, but also fear. Fear of what might happen. Knights and guards are blurred shadows as they hurry past me. Servants and other castle workers scatter in all directions. Some carry bed sheets or baskets of food, since they were trying to prepare supper beforehand. One slams against the old tapestry in the dining hall, and it moves uneasily. As I run past, a few servants tell me to get to my quarters before I am killed, either by the enemy or my father, because I’m “too young to be so close to the fighting.”

As I round another corner, boots sliding on the slick rock, I hear bits and pieces of news about the battle. “The Galbactians have attacked!” “They’ve come back with a vengeance this time ‘round!” “They’re gaining ground fast, they’ve already breached the inner walls!” There’s one bit though that makes my heart stop.


Revision:

One moment I am laughing with my father. The next thing I know, the castle I call home is a war zone.

Father tells me to go into my room and lock the door until he says it is safe. The words are spoken anxiously, his voice low and firm. I nod once and force my shaky legs to stand straighter and be still. Right after this, father runs down the hall with my uncle towards the armory. I let my posture slouch in defeat and run towards my room, annoyed that there is actual fighting going on that I must miss. It’s hard to keep my hands from punching the nearest wall as the blurry, fleeting shadows of the castle guards hurry past. The further I go, the more servants and other castle workers I see scattering in all directions. Some carry bed sheets or baskets of food, since they were trying to prepare supper beforehand. One stumbles and slams against the old tapestry in the dining hall, and it moves uneasily. A few glare at me, shouting for me to get to my quarters before I am killed, either by the enemy or my father, because I’m “too young to be so close to the fighting.” 
As I round another corner, my boots sliding on the slick rock, I hear bits and pieces of news about the battle. “The Galbactians have attacked!” “They’ve come back with a vengeance this time ‘round!”


Strong Points:
As you might have noticed, I’ll be taking over this revision on Victoria’s behalf to help give more perspective in this revision. I volunteered myself right before she volunteered me, so I’m happy to put in my thoughts!

I can see how you’ve applied some of what Victoria’s said, and that’s awesome. There are some new details, and also “showing” of his frustration through the line, “It’s hard to keep my hands from punching the nearest wall,” which is a solid sign of characterization that we didn’t have before. The additions definitely help.


Some Tips:
However, while the additions help, revisions are still quite timid and minute. I understand what Victoria’s been trying to explain about this intro, and while there are certainly some improvements, her points still stand: the intro reads like a summary of events. It feels like the main character is recounting over dinner to someone a moment that happened. I’m not fully immersed in the story because the action is described in a retrospective way.

Let’s take the very first line.

One moment I am laughing with my father. The next thing I know, the castle I call home is a war zone.

This is a summary. In fact, this could be the first line of a synopsis (which is usually in third person, not first, although it’s not unheard of). I can picture reading the summary on the back of the book and this being the first line. That’s cool, but it’s not as effective in the actual story.

This is what Victoria means by telling. That first line is the core example of “telling” versus “showing”, and while there are certainly times where “telling” is absolutely appropriate (and some might argue that this might actually work here), both Victoria and I agree that this opening line loses the potential drama of the intro.

What Victoria has been trying to explain is to utilize action for greater impact. Let’s take the very first line here:

One moment I am laughing with my father.

This can be unpacked with action. What are they talking about? Where are they? What’s the relationship between them? What’s their connection? What do they look like? All of these potential questions are lost because, instead of beginning with action, the action is summarized.

The next thing I know, the castle I call home is a war zone.

‘War zone’ means nothing to the reader. Was there an explosion? Are there fires? Did someone run in and announce a siege on the castle? What are the stakes? What is the conflict?

Also, ‘The next thing I know’ or other modern idiosyncrasies are actually kind of like ‘throwaway lines’, or clich├ęd phrases that don’t really carry their weight.

Let me try to give a real concrete example of what I mean. Keep in mind that this is just my own personal exploration of the story and not intended to be used for anything other than just a basic example. Let’s take the third line:

Father tells me to go into my room and lock the door until he says it is safe.

And to demonstrate “unpacking”, “showing” and “action”, I’ll write it like this:

He grabs me by the shoulders, his leather hands too stiff. “Son, go to your chamber.” I hardly recognize his voice, both stern and firm, yet each word quivered on the tip of his tongue. “Lock the doors. Stay quiet. Stay hidden. Do not come out until I’ve sent word it’s safe.”

My own voice cracks in my throat. “Father—”

A resounding boom rocks the castle and challenges my balance. Father recovers first and shoves me away. “Go.”

Again, this is just an example of something that could have been explored from that single line, where the narrative can take the reader into “the moment” of the story instead of glaze over it. I want to see how dad’s anxious, not just have it told to me. Moments like these are what really bring home the contrast and stakes of the story.

For me, the entire first line can be unpacked to fill the first 250 words. I can see it. There’s a lot that we lose as readers when it’s all crammed together into a single line of telling. Personally, I would definitely suggest a whole rewrite, because I think you can do much better than this. Brave restarting fresh and think about what matters as you write—what should be conveyed, and how.

But before you brave another revision, I’d definitely advise you to check out our masterpost of exercises. Some of the exercises also have examples, and I’d recommend checking into those as well (especially on the pacing side, because I think that’ll help you a lot).

Also, I’d recommend picking up a book in your genre (middle grade or young adult fantasy, I’d guess) and read critically like a writer. Take notes, mark passages with stickies or post-its, and really learn how the author’s craft functions in scenes like yours. Study how the author keeps the reader rooted in the story and avoids summarizing events (or, conversely, uses summaries of events to benefit the story, because not all “telling” is bad).


Would I Keep Reading?
I want to see some big changes if you decide to do another revision – I’d also be super excited if you did. I love to see huge improvement, and once you let go and really get into revising, I think you’ll do something awesome!

Good luck! ♥