Saturday, March 1, 2014

First 250 Words Smash! #45

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

The flames come out of her lungs with the ease of a passioned scream. Her skins erupts in hot flashes, her teeth are made tender and raw, her hair flows in the air possessed by her fury. She is held down by the hands of two men with stones axes gripped in their arms, hunger in the bellies. They ravening through her village with the creed of self preservation etched in their hearts. The woman they hold down follows through example. She shreds through them with her voice. Screaming molten hate at their hearts. She drives them from the soil like so many fields of grain, hands reaching up to the sun in triumphant glory. Never do they or others like them return. The woman, now worshiped, would be remembered throughout the course of this history as the first of many. Her fury, tyranny, benevolence and mercy held in the same hand.

The punctuation of her reign ending with a kingdom made of hard stone. Song are sang on the day of her assassination. Death coming at the hands of tribe of warriors who move the shadows to their command. Her death followed by an eruption of light. The edges of night cutting her flesh with jagged ease. Thus was the cycle, seats of power were forged and opponents of the throne would come with legions to steal the crown. Across the world, cultures would mold the land to their whim, feeling the pulse of the earth flow though them. 

Strong Points –
I can tell that poetry is behind a lot of the writing. There’re definitely some interesting visuals going on here, and one of my favorite lines is this analogy: “She drives them from the soil like so many fields of grain.” I think this is one powerful simile, and it resounds so deeply with the passage overall. There’s a strong connection between the simile and the story, something that’s super critical when we’re looking to leave the right impression with the reader.

There’s a lot of experimentation here, which is good. Practice helps us develop our skills and add new tools to our writerly toolbox. After we’ve grown as writers, we get to look back at old stuff and realize how much better we are now. So definitely keep experimenting and playing with words!

Some Tips –
While there is certainly some strong wording, there are some various grammatical errors and incorrect word usage. Of course, prose isn’t always meant to be taken literally, which is the beauty of having creative (and poetic) analogies and leaving impressions. But, if the language is too vague, or even too precise, the images that are translated don’t make sense and leave the reader baffled.

Let’s take this sentence:

Her skin erupts in hot flashes.

When I picture something “erupting”, I picture something volcanic, or something shattering, like brick during an earthquake. Erupting means explosive, something that breaks apart because of some powerful force. So, in this instance, I’m picturing her skin literally exploding.

However, that doesn’t mean the word “erupt” can’t be used in this instance, because it’s a strong word that can potentially leave a strong impression. We can fix this sentence easily, but I’m hesitant about using the phrase “hot flashes” because, well, for me, “hot flashes” is a term commonly used for menopausal women.

So, as far as fixing this sentence, it’s super quick. All we have to do is rearrange the words:

Hot flashes erupt from her skin.

Now, it’s not her skin that’s exploding, but the power inside her. Many writers often make this mistake – as in, they target the incorrect subject with the verb. And, just as easily, these issues can be resolved with simply rearranging the words. Be aware of what your verb is doing to which subject or object.

As I said before, experimenting and practice is great. What I think should be the next skill to work on is restraint. I feel like you’re a poet first. That’s just how the writing comes across. But that eye for poetic phrasing encourages a lot of purple prose.

(Remember, “purple prose” is language that is often considered flowery, to the point of superfluous and/or distracting.)

An example of a very purple line is this:

They ravening through her village with the creed of self preservation etched in their hearts.

It feels to me, personally, that at least “creed” was located via thesaurus. (I actually didn’t even know “ravening” was a word either – Victoria schooled me on that one.) I could most certainly be wrong, but that’s my guess based on the way the word feels in the sentence. Sentences like the following are also contributors to this feeling:

The punctuation of her reign ending with a kingdom made of hard stone.

I even looked up “punctuation” just in case there was some sort of meaning other than periods, exclamation marks, commas, etc. The other definition I found was “to interrupt or occur in (something) repeatedly,” which I still don’t think applies to this sentence? I suppose this would probably go under the “incorrect word” tab.

But anyway, using a thesaurus is, to me, totally okay. Sometimes the word we need isn’t the word we have in our repertoire. However, if a writer finds a word from a thesaurus, they absolutely need to know what it means, both in definition and in modern culture.

As an example, “hot flashes” literally just means flashes of heat. But, culturally, “hot flashes” is used a lot more commonly as part of menopause. I also didn’t know ravening was a word (I learn something every day), which means it’s either an uncommon or dated word, or that I’m just embarrassing myself. Both are very likely.

If a writer’s choosing a word because it sounds cool, but they’re not totally familiar with it, then it’s a good idea to either take the time to become intimately familiar with it, or refrain from using it at all. Using a word we’re not familiar with can result in words that look like we popped open a thesaurus, standing out like a beacon.

But, for me, the purple part of the sentence is mostly “with the creed of self preservation etched in their hearts.”

It feels like a long way to say that these guys were simply striving to survive. Purple prose is deadly in that it slows down a narrative. It drags the prose with heavy words, trying to pack in as much information in one sentence as possible, or forcing poetic too hard. It’s either a struggle to read, or inorganic/insincere – or both.

A practice in restraint is shaving off the words that take away from the sentence more than they add to – which is also a good practice for poetry. Find the most important impression of the sentence, the idea that matters the most, and focus on that. Unpack the more telling words like “creed” and “ravening”. Show us what “creed” and “ravening” mean.

Take that sentence and ask, “What’s the most important information that needs to be conveyed?” That these guys are going to kill this woman out of survival? Are they pleased about this? Are they forced to? Or are they like a pack of wolves, hunting? How can this sentence be restructured so it frames this idea? How can the whole paragraph be restructured to frame this idea?

Think of it this way. If you step into a city like New York and see hundreds of towering skyscrapers, it’s an incredible sight, but it’s a lot to take in. In a single glance, will you remember any one or two buildings? Maybe. How about their size? They all look tall, right? It’s really hard to focus on any one building.

But, if you step into a city and see a single skyscraper surrounded by much shorter buildings, that single sky-scraper might look even bigger than any of the buildings in New York, and you’re going to remember it. Nothing is taking away from you studying this one building. Nothing is taking away from you remembering it. Restraint in writing is just like this.

As far as story stuff goes, my recommended reading is First 250 Words Smash #25x3. The things I’d talk about here in regards to the story have already been talked about there, so check it out!

Would I Keep Reading?
Not yet. There’s a lot of great potential and good things going on, but more practice is definitely needed as far as craft and story go. Keep writing, keep getting feedback on both technical skill and craft, and keep growing! Good luck!

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