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?
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! ♥