Most Evil Critique Master: Sarah
Working Title: N/A
The girl paused. She was sure she had heard someone call her name. These caves were silent this time of year. Breath in her throat, she became a statue. The caves stayed silent. Raising her lamp, mouth pursed, she scanned the map. Three miles in, and she wasn’t quite lost, but looking at it frequently seemed like a good idea. She had a job, and bills to pay, and getting lost wouldn’t help.
“Alaia!” Her name bounced around the cave. Who would be calling her? The mountains had lain empty since the highlanders had fled. Lepool was three days ride away. No one could be here. She tucked herself in to a crevice, and struggled to control her breathing. “Alaia! C’mere!”
Up ahead, a light appeared, the cave’s walls thrown in sharp relief. The sparkling yellows, blues, and pink seemed to mock the chills running down Alaia’s spine, winking gently at her. She extinguished her lantern, and shrunk further into her crevice. Nothing friendly could be up ahead.
“Alaia? Oh Alaia, won’t you come play?” Hands shaking, she fumbled briefly with the lantern. The sweet, high voice was something out of the fae tales her Mama had told her as child to scare her into being good. Those stories were called ‘fae tales’ for a reason. They weren’t true.
So what’s that then, mocked the only part of her that still had a backbone. ‘That’ was the thing that was lighting up the cave.
Strong Points –
Structurally speaking, there’re a lot of good things happening here. I can see a solid eye for balancing sentences for a smooth flow and good pacing. From here, it’s just a matter of tweaking and refining, building on what’s already there.
I’m also a fan of the tension, and I love that we get a sense of her fear without ever needing to have it said outright. Her hands shake, she fumbles, and in the beginning, she hesitates. I'm also a fan of the way some of the setting details, which are often dumped in the form of exposition, are relayed awesomely in tandem with the rising action. It’s not relayed in the form of, ‘This is being explained because it has to be explained eventually.’ It’s a lot more like, ‘This is being explained because it’s pertinent to the plot.’ This is my own Achilles heel, so good job on that!
Some Tips –
There’re some really great things happening here – now, let’s bring it up to the next level. And just to be clear, a lot of what I’ll say is purely subjective. This means we’re talking more about style and voice rather than technical issues, and a critique on style will always be based off of personal experience and opinions!
Okay, so, let’s begin. I can tell that there’s still a lot of experimenting going on in regards to sentence flow, so the talent is still raw and needs a bit more practice. As an example, the first three sentences put me off in my first read-through:
The girl paused. She was sure she had heard someone call her name. These caves were silent this time of year.
While I loved the pacing of the first two sentences--with the choppiness that instantly generated tension--the short third sentence had me wondering if it was just a fluke. The flow did improve after that, but there were still some hiccups later on, especially with the second paragraph. A number of sentences followed a nearly identical formula, communicating a single idea and then ending. For me, this was extremely jarring, and as far as pacing goes, lost its effect quickly.
Let’s take an example:
Her name bounced around the cave. Who would be calling her? The mountains had lain empty since the highlanders had fled. Lepool was three days ride away. No one could be here.
There’s a lot of potential in this bit in regards to flow, and there’s a huge difference between the above and a simple change:
Her name bounced around the cave. Who would be calling her? The mountains had lain empty since the highlanders had fled, and Lepool was three days ride away. No one could be here.
This is only an example, but just combining two of the right sentences really drives the impact of that final sentence, “No one could be here.” The combined sentences really set up a frame for those final words, giving an extra sting to that moment of drama. Plus, the whole passage flows much better from that simple change.
The next suggestion I’d make is unpacking. As far as detail goes, this is a good foundation, but it’s time to sharpen those creative instincts and take the description and verbs to the next level. I was trying to find the best exercise for this, but really, anything about description is going to help, especially any of the exercises under the KSW Summer Camp and Description vs. Pacing categories. Check out the examples at the bottom of each individual exercise, too. Look for words that strengthen the imagery/sensory details.
What I was looking for in this intro was for the cave to really come alive. I have such a vague image of what the cave is supposed to look like that, when the light appeared, I really didn’t know what to picture. I want to feel what Alaia feels, and I want to feel it the way she feels and sees and smells it while she’s scared and confused. I want to be scared along with her. Creating atmosphere will do awesome things for this cave in that regard.
And, it can also help with the action. An example of a line I know can be improved is this:
Breath in her throat, she became a statue.
The words “in” and “became” are weak, neutral, and do little to create a more interesting feel of what she’s going through. Think of how to rearrange lines like this, to elevate the words and make something more interesting. There’s a difference between, “I took a breath,” and, “My lungs expanded with a slow, quivering breath.”
For now, those’re the two big things that I’d recommend. The rest are simply technical, such as beginning a new paragraph after dialogue that isn’t Alaia’s. Both times that the dialogue started the paragraph, I was confused, thinking she was the one speaking, and had to double back to make sure I hadn't misread.
Also, I’d recommend checking out “comma splices”. The one that really got me was this sentence:
She extinguished her lantern, and shrunk further into her crevice.
Do a bit of research on comma splices and this should be an easy fix.
And, finally, I’m not sure what Alaia’s age should be. In the beginning, she’s referred to as “the girl”, but at the end of the paragraph, we’re told she has a job and bills. Throughout the intro, however, I felt like her voice in the narrative sounded more like she’s “a girl”, much younger than anyone who’d be paying bills.
Anyway, I’m going to leave it at that. Mostly, start experimenting with prose. The technical skills are coming together, so now play around with finding your own personal style and voice!
Would I Keep Reading?
Not yet, but I’d really like to see this intro again after some experimenting with both style and voice. I think that’ll do a lot of good things!
Good luck! ♥