Thursday, January 2, 2014

First 250 Words Smash! #42

First of 2014 Super Awesome Author: Sadie @ Tumblr
Still in Dinosaur Years Editor: Victoria
Working Title: N/A

In the morning stillness, Desdemona could only hear her own footsteps. She was walking slowly so she could scan the ground, but her efforts were only serving to frustrate her further.
She bent. Pressed a hand to the ground. Grimaced, since the moisture of the spongy earth rushed to engulf her fingers.
Everything was brown, soggy, and mostly dead.
She clicked a soft noise of irritation with her tongue and stood once more, continuing her slow walk. Her attention wandered, though, over the mossy trees and mushy dirt in the distance. It was hard to have hope when the forest looked like a dying swampland.
Having any kind of hope was harder since the magic had died, really.
She shoved a hand into her satchel as she walked, counting her findings for the day. Two round penn leaves for healing, three fignius leaves for focus, and one mushroom, barely on the brink of life. They would have to stew it immediately to get anything from it.
The voice of her teacher only exasperated her frustration at this morning’s bounty. But she turned and started her way back.
The morning was brisk. She rubbed her hands together and remembered when she could use the friction of her fingers to pull life and healing from the leaves. The two crumpled leaves from today’s plants would boil to create a simple drink for colds, nothing more.
“Pathetic,” she muttered, and hurried to meet Cal.

Strong Points -
Though it might not be an action-packed start, this is a nice way to drop hints and questions. You have Mona collecting for spells and it leaves us to wonder what sort of world we're dealing with. These questions are great, they're what keep us reading. I want to know if Mona's doing this in secret, if she practices magic without others knowing or maybe she's poor and embarrassed so she collects the ingredients without others knowing. And the dead forest turned into a swamp, what the heck happened there? You've found a nice way to weave these details in without cramming them in, and that's awesome!

Some Tips -
The very first thing I noticed was the use of passive voice. It's in the first paragraph, "was walking" and "was only serving". Using "was" (or "had") plus the verb can at times be necessary, but most of the time it removes us from the character preforming the action and greatly slows down the pace. It's also a lot wordier than necessary.

"Mona walked slowly so she could scan the ground." To me, this has a stronger impact, as there are less steps between me and what Mona's doing.

To strengthen this even more, I might choose a more descriptive verb than "walked" just so to avoid using the adverb with it. Adverbs definitely have their places,  don't get me wrong. But if abused, they lose their effectiveness. Sometimes, they border on telling instead of showing.

Telling is a really hard habit to get out of, but becoming aware of it is one of the best things a writer can do for themselves. Learning to describe and effectively show the reader to a conclusion is so much stronger than just handing over a one or two-word description.

For example, "Everything was brown, soggy, and mostly dead." Well, what does that mean? That doesn't give me much of anything to picture. I probably don't know what a dead forest is supposed to look like, so just telling me that there is one there, and that it's wet, that's not helpful. How did this forest die? Did it burn? Are the trees sick and withering? Is there too much water for the climate and thus the trees have begun to rot? All of these things are very probable, but also very different in presentation. This will probably require research on your part if you don't know what this is like, but the end result will be totally worth it.

Another great way to help this is getting rid of dialogue tags. "Muttered" is telling me how she spoke, instead of showing me with the dialogue or how her body language  reads. If she's just saying one word to herself in the middle of the woods, I can probably deduce that she's grumbling it. Other things like shouting or snapping should be clear in the way the sentence reads. We say fewer words or pick more abrasive things to say when we're pissed. Even in text messages or blog posts, a tone is conveyed without us ever having to hear it. Again, dialogue tags are certainly not taboo, and have their uses, but learning to write without them can really help those description muscles.

Would I keep reading?
Not just yet, unfortunately. I need a little bit more before I'm invested in Mona and her world, and I didn't feel completely immersed. So please, resubmit so that Sarah or I can take a second look! Thank you so much, hope to hear back from you!

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