Saturday, April 26, 2014

First 250 Words Smash! #49

Most Wonderful Author: Jay @ Tumblr
Most Evil Critique Master: Ange
Working Title: The Burning Ones

As ashes of failed rebellion settle, she is the last breathing fighter. Her cage suspends four yards above ground in the middle of city square, too short for her spine to straighten and too narrow for her muscles to relax. Those who once believed in her dangle a short way above, their decay battering her weathered face. She has not spoken a word.

“That girl is made of titanium.” A Justitia whistles.

Twenty-two protons. Strongest lightweight metal. Corrosion-resistant. Highly flammable.

The town gathers to watch her time come. Cameras pan from rooftops, grasping every angle possible for the rest of the Utopia. Rows of soldiers bow as the Chairman arrives in robe and mask—no lens may taint his image.

At the snap of his fingers, her cage descends. She wobbles against rusted bars, arms having been sawed off after the decisive battle. Two soldiers march forth with barrels in hand and douse her. She scowls at the stench, worse than her decomposing allies. Petroleum.

 “Execution order: 28th of February, Year 401 Après Unification, rebel leader who shall not be named!”

No one will know her identity. Mention of this incident is forbidden beyond this broadcast, because enemies of the Utopia deserve no second thought. The Chairman ignites a match while staring into her striking blue eyes, unwavering like a crouching wolf’s.

“I will see you again. Soon,” he whispers.

The meaning of his words dispel as the arc of flame comes for her.

Strong Points –
Wow, I absolutely love the plot, the idea behind all that’s going on in this text. It’s intriguing, it drew me right in and wow, yes. This scene makes me, as a reader, thirsting to know what happens next. I didn’t initially understand that the girl was made of titanium, and not the cage, but once I did -- wow! It adds a whole new level to the plot.

I can feel the remnants of a failed rebellion, and the fact that this girl who’s made of titanium is also the leader of the failed rebellion, added to the fact that she’s made of titanium and titanium is a strong metal, suggests how difficult it is to rebel. If she couldn’t make it, who will? Plus, the “I will see you soon” comment from the Chairman, holy smokes, my brain went buzzing with questions. Intriguing, indeed.

Moreover, I especially like the description of the Chairman, and how he wears a mask so that no lens can “taint his image.” It’s a very neat addition, and gives the reader some insight into who he is.

Furthermore, I like the overall tone to the writing, and most especially, how it gives a glimpse into the conditions of this world. It’s clearly a dictatorship, and from what I’ve read I’m assuming it’s a world that doesn’t work as well as it should, i.e. a dystopia. This leads me to another thing I really like, calling the place “Utopia”, it creates a wonderful contrast between the meaning of the word and a place that clearly does not embody that meaning. Plus, I have a soft spot for a good dystopian story. I’m getting all giddy about this.

Some Tips –
First of all, the advice below is purely based on my own subjective opinion, and you do not have to agree with me. With that said, let’s begin.

I’m going to start with a few general tips before I dig into the details. This scene feels like a prologue to me. It feels like the first page of a novel that is only there for one reason, and one reason only: to create suspense. Usually, after this page comes the first chapter, and very rarely does this chapter pick up right where the prologue left off.

It is a great intro, because it does create suspense and it manages to draw me in as a reader. However, will the force that dragged me in still be there after another three chapters? This is my worry. There’s a risk with putting this kind of scene before the actual beginning of the story. Even though it may create some insight, it may also create high expectations for the rest of the novel. I’m not saying it’s necessarily a negative action, but I’m saying treat it with caution.

I would also like more details surrounding the people and the city. How does it look? How do the people look? Are they happy, sad, angry, relieved, scared, etc? Are they well off, or are they wearing worn-down clothes? What about the soldiers? Are their expressions empty or is there some kind of emotion? What emotion if so? Is the city large or small? Is there a lot of grass or does concrete dominate? What kind of robe and mask does the Chairman wear? Do dark or light colours dominate his clothes? Adding some of these details facilitates the setting of the scene and atmosphere surrounding the event portrayed which in turn helps the reader make sense of what they are supposed to picture.

Those were the general points. Onto the finer details.

The first paragraph is a little too vague for my taste. Let me illustrate:

... too short for her spine to straighten, too narrow for her muscles to relax.

“Short” is not a word I’d use in this context, although I understand what this sentence is trying to tell me, the presence of the word “short” interrupts the creation of my mental image of this cage. I would instead choose another word that could more clearly convey what the text is trying to describe. An example could be “low”, as in the roof of the cage is too low, or as an alternative: “constrained”.

At the end of the first paragraph, two words interrupt the flow of the text for me. “Battering” is the first word.’s definition of “batter” (as it is used in this context) is as follows:

    verb (used with object)
1. to beat persistently or hard; pound repeatedly
2. to damage by beating or hard usage

verb (used without object)
3. to deal heavy, repeated blows; pound steadily

Here’s why I’m referencing a dictionary: the word batter means to deliver a punch, or to be worn down from being well used. Synonyms to “batter” include “assault”, “demolish”, and “wreck”. My impression is that these people’s “decays” aren’t destroying titanium girl. Their “decays” are falling onto her face. I would exchange “battering” for a word with a more appropriate meaning in relation to the context, provided that my conclusion is correct. An example of such a word could be “dropping”, or “falling”.

The second word is “decay”. “Decay” is quite vague in telling the reader what state these people are in, since there are different stages of decay. Whenever a word is vague, it blurs the reader’s picture of the scene, and unless the reader is supposed to be confused, it serves no purpose other than complicating the reading experience. The text would need a more specific word or description to pinpoint exactly what is happening between the bodies of those who believed in titanium girl.

While on the topic of vague words I’d like to mention two more things that contribute to the vagueness of the text. The first one is in the first paragraph:

    ... in the middle of city square ...

I know which city square the text is referring to, but, for the text to flow better I would like it to be more specific. One way could be adding a “the” before city, or “Utopia’s” before city. I would have excluded this if it weren’t for the fact that the text excludes a distinction on two other occasions. The difference is, however, that in those two it works, whereas in this case it becomes a bit too vague.
The second thing I’d like to bring up is something that rendered me confused, and still does. Almost at the end of the scene, there’s a line that goes:

The Chairman ignites a match while staring into her striking blue eyes, unwavering like a crouching wolf’s.

What confused me is this: who’s eyes are unwavering like a crouching wolf’s? Hers or the Chairman’s? It’s a very important distinction, because this likeness implies that one of them is measuring the other in  preparation for an attack against an enemy or a prey.

I’d like to leave with one last thing: sometimes simple is better than complex. On several occasions the text felt a bit like it was trying to be more advanced by using more advanced words (perhaps a little too advanced). The problem was that said words weren’t always correctly used, which hinders the text rather than facilitates it.

Would I Keep Reading?
As I said, this feels like a prologue to me. Whether it is one or not, it feels a lot like one. I know little of what to expect from the rest of the story because of it, which is why I’m not sure I would continue reading. I would turn the page to where the story properly begins, but I’m not sure how many pages after that I’d read. But, on the other hand, I’m a sucker for a good dystopian novel.

If I had more insight into the rest of the story, I’d have a clearer answer. For now I’m going to say a positive probably! 

Good luck!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

First 250 Words Smash! #48

Most Wonderful Author: AwayLaughing @ Tumblr
Most Evil Critique Master: Aly
Working Title: In Living Memory

Neiar, who was half asleep from a long day of doing nothing, jerked awake when the large doors of the antechamber banged open and yet another woman was escorted in by black clad Sentries. With her she brought the crackle of magic, strong and clear despite the dampening spells. The girl next to Near leaned subtly toward him, one hand coming to his arm, squeezing gently.

“Hedgewitch, maybe,” she said, voice pitched low. Neiar nodded, his own fingers clutching at his chair. The woman who came in was tall, hair a vibrant red. She wore simple but clean clothing with no adornment, likely not a College wife, or a member herself then.

“Hra Yanta Fletcher,” an old, stately man spoke, voice like rasping paper. Unlike Neiar and the Chroniclers, this man was dressed in vivid oranges and blues, the peacock to their sparrow. “You are here before this emergency assembly today because you claim both twins,” he looked pointedly at her stomach, “and family magics. If these claims be false leave now. If not, come forward and state your full claim.”

The woman didn't hesitate, she stepped toward them with her back straight. “I am Yanta Fletcher, daughter of Malol ki-Rant. I am mother to a promising runecrafter, and through marriage claim cousin-kin to the 52nd Memories.” The declaration sent a shock through the crowd, and Neiar's stomach plummeted, bile creeping up his throat. The girl on his right squeezed his arm again, though he saw her fingers shaking.

Strong Points –
There’s some strong word choice here that I really enjoy. “The crackle of magic” and “the peacock to their sparrow” are particularly evocative phrases that give the writing a unique feel, not just repeating the same old clichés. The balance between dialogue and action was also well-done. Not focusing wholly on one or the other kept the scene from stagnating, and allowed for world-building at the same time as moving the action along.

On that note, there’s a clear emphasis on world-building that is both promising and attention-grabbing. Again it gives me the feeling that this story is something new and original, and that’s enticing to a reader who may have read hundreds of fantasy novels before. A good way to hook one of these readers is by immediately showing why your book is different, whether it’s interesting characters, a unique setting, or a gripping plot.

And—this is just a personal thing—I really like books that don’t handhold you with pages of info-dumping before letting you get on with the story. I enjoy when I’m allowed to learn about the world through the story itself.

Some Tips –
However… there’s such a thing as too much world-building. Or at least too much world-building all at once. There’s simply so much stuffed in there that I don’t have space to be intrigued, I’m just confused—and I’ve read it several times! The section tells me that there’s something important about magic, there’s some fellows named “Sentries” that appear to be guards, there’s a College, everyone’s clothing is really relevant, there’s Chroniclers, twins and family magic matter for some reason, there’s some sort of legal claim associated with this, there’s both hedgewitches and runecrafters (whatever each is in this context), there’s something called the “52nd Memories”, and that’s either repulsive or really bad. That is… an awful lot of things for a reader to keep track of in the first four paragraphs!

In short, it needs to get cut down.

In the first pages of a story, the reader doesn’t know anything about the world. They have no idea what details are vital to the opening scene, and which are irrelevant and could be skimmed over at first. Instead, the narrative has to do that work for them, focusing on the most important information in the scene, the stuff that absolutely must be introduced. (In this case, it appears to be things like the nature of magic, the twins, whatever the 52nd Memories is, etc.) Highlighting the most important bits while minimizing less-important details or moving them elsewhere lets you regulate what the reader learns and when.

An example:

She wore simple but clean clothing with no adornment, likely not a College wife, or a member herself then.

Not knowing the world or characters, I don’t know if this is actually going to be important later on, but it doesn’t seem hugely relevant in this context. Consider moving minor details like this later in the story, to a scene where they’re more immediately important or to a scene less focused on world-building in general.

At the same time, for all these broad world-building details, there’s not a whole lot of context given to the immediate details. The scene could benefit from adding more of these—describing where the settings are, why they’re there, who else is in the room, and so on. Starting a story quickly and getting right to the action is a good way to avoid the trap of too much description, but too little runs the risk of not giving the reader the context they need to understand a scene. Expanding the intro or starting earlier could offer the space to add in those descriptive details. As with world-building details, there needs to be a balance between too many details and not enough, but in this case I think there’s room for a little more.

Other than that, watch out for repetition. An example is with the woman’s introduction.

    yet another woman was escorted in

    With her she brought the crackle of magic

    The woman who came in was tall

There’s nothing wrong with each of these phrases in isolation, but when put together, it’s an awful lot of “a woman entered the room”. Consider how phrases flow overall, not just in their immediate context.

Finally, I’d like to see more of Neiar’s character. I get the impression he’s the main or at least viewpoint character, but aside from him seeming appalled or upset by the mention of the 52nd Memories, we don’t get much about how he views the scene and why. This goes hand-in-hand with expanding the scene to give more description and context, but it’s something to pay particular attention to.

Would I Keep Reading?
Not yet. Like I said, I like books that let you work out the world as you go along. But here, it’s too much of a good thing. A balance needs to be struck between giving the reader the information they need and overloading them with unnecessary details. Unfortunately, right now the balance is leaning pretty far toward the “overload” side of the scale. Work on focusing the reader’s attention only on the most relevant details, and I think it’d make for an even stronger and more gripping intro. Best of luck!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

First 250 Words Smash! #47

Most Wonderful Author: Darcy Addams @ Tumblr
Most Evil Critique Master: Rebecca
Working Title: Purple Violets

The money's all they need, the guys on the door know them. Arthur had picked the place out a few years ago, solely for the fact they gave you a wrist band instead of 'one of those horrible tramp stamps'. The muffled base of the music flared out as they entered the building, the noise instantly clamped down on their ears. Bodies milled, sliding past each other, detailed silhouettes in the dim lighting. Coloured lights threw tints over the walls, faces flashed green for a split second, black lace glowed crimson.

“Do you think Mike's got the base amped up more than usual?” Arthur whispered half jokingly as they pushed their way passed a group of girls, cyber dreads laced into their hair. He called it a whisper, but really it was a stage whisper shouted over the music thudding into their bones. Pierre shrugged, personally he liked the way the base reverberated through the floorboards, filling the room. Like a defibrillator, it jolted his heart in to wake-up mode.

“You're going to boil in that,” Arthur tugged at the cuff of his friends velvet jacket.

“We'll see, it'll be worth it on the walk home.”

Arthur himself was braving the cold in a dress shirt and black waistcoat with straps buckled across the chest.

“You'll just have to be the epitome of chivalry and lend it to me when we get outside.” He patted the taller male on the shoulder, smiling in mock sweetness.

Strong Points –
This intro creates a really strong sense of setting from a variety of different senses. I almost feel as overwhelmed as the characters by the lights and sounds. Some lines that I really liked include:

Coloured lights threw tints over the walls, faces flashed green for a split second, black lace glowed crimson.

Like a defibrillator, it jolted his heart in to wake-up mode.

There are some really strong verb choices that keep the description active and in the moment so we don't feel overburdened right at the beginning. My favorite might be the "sliding" bodies, which gives us a bonus to really feeling the sweaty crowd and the fluidity of their dancing all in one go!

You also have some great, specific choices for nouns, like cyber dreads (which after a quick google search I did find out are a real thing and not just fiberoptic connections you can braid in your hair that light up and connect to your favorite social networking medium, but I think the term still resonates with futuristic imagery!) and velvet jackets. This isn't just any old club, but it's also never straight out said that this is a goth club--a great example of showing vs. telling!

Some Tips –
There are a few grammar issues throughout, so it might benefit from another look-over (watch the mix-up of "base" bottom with "bass" wubwubwub. A big issue that kept cropping up is the dreaded comma splice.

Comma splices often lead to run-on sentences which can create a lot of problems in the flow of a story. It might help to take a step back and make sure some of these commas aren't used to link two separate sentences by accident. If both phrases around a comma can stand by themselves, they can either be broken up with a period, or connected with some sort of conjunction (and, but, although, when, etc.). For instance, let's look at the first sentence:

The money's all they need, the guys on the door know them.

For this sentence, it seems like there could be a connecting link between those two ideas:

The money's all they need, because the guys on the door know them. (So they don't need to show their ids.)
The money's all they need, but the guys on the door know them. (So they let them in for free.)
The money's all they need, and the guys on the door know them. (What more reasons do you need to go?)
The money's all they need when the guys on the door know them. (But not when it's that other guy who's always forgetting their faces, God, I hate that guy, rude.)

At other times though, don't be afraid to break up longer sentences and change up the rhythm for that extra special emphasis punch!

For instance, the comma splices also happen in my favorite line about the "coloured lights" and "black lace." It could be argued that the comma splices are left here intentionally to  give the reader that same pulsing feeling as the strobe lights, but because the comma splice is a recurring problem, my faith is shattered just enough that I see a grammar mistake rather than a stylistic choice. However, this sentence could also be broken up. Compare these two options:

"Coloured lights threw tints over the walls. Faces flashed green for a split second, and/then black lace glowed crimson."

"Coloured lights threw tints over the walls, and faces flashed green for a split second. Black lace glowed crimson."

To me the first sentence seems to be zooming in from a larger picture (perhaps could benefit from replacing "Walls" with "The crowd" or "The dance floor" so it stays connected to the people, like our other nouns, faces and lace?) to two close-ups. Using "then" rather than "and" also makes it very sequential—first one flash of color, then the next.

The second option feels like the last sentence is adding more force to the same point made by the first two, but with just a little more intimacy. Especially with the emphasis on that black lace, now at the beginning of its own sentence. Rrrow.

And those aren't the only two options available! Read it aloud. See what flows—and what doesn't! It doesn't matter ultimately which way you choose (even if it breaks grammar rules, although I recommend doing so on a limited basis) so long as it is a CHOICE. There are other great discussions of flow in critiques 44 and 41.

While this scene is told in 3rd person perspective, I can see some character voice coming through in the narration, which is great! However, there were a few instances when it didn't seem so seamlessly integrated, and it confused me instead.

First, the "tramp stamps" line threw me off since I think of tramp stamps occurring on only one body part—and it's not the back of a wrist. For a second I took it literally and thought this was a gang requiring secret tattoos before you could join! Common sense eventually intervened, but I think part of what was tripping me up is that this detail is sprung before we even get a real sense of the characters or setting yet, and it leaves a lot up to inference. First they are an ambiguous "they," then we are hardly introduced to Arthur before we are hearing him quoted about his preferred method of club entry. I think it would help to be a little more obvious and tack on an "as Arthur called them" or some other phrasing to make it extra clear. Then the reader should be safely correct in their assumptions.

Meanwhile in paragraph 2, I got stuck on the pronoun confusion over who is calling Arthur's speech a whisper. Is this Arthur himself reading his dialogue tags out loud? Or Pierre (who I assume to be our limited-pov character) calling it a stage whisper in his own narration?

I really like the image of someone trying to speak over the din of loud music and their yells coming across as a whisper to the person right next to them. But to me, it seemed like there was too much emphasis on terminology, and then in the middle of it all, there's that blurb of description about the cyber dread girls. It creates this disjointed gap in the narration that breaks up the flow.

But why worry about the dialogue tag and who's calling it what? Skip all that and get straight to the description of Arthur's voice. I think it would be easier to just tell us exactly how loud it is in comparison to the noise in the room, and then have the description move on to the cyber dreads. When in doubt, simplify! And that should help the flow of that entire line, so the reader doesn't have time to drift away from that description only to be whipped back for more. (For extra help on dialogue tags, they have been covered very well in past Word Smashs 37 and 42!)

And when writing descriptions, in addition to getting pretty words down on the page, it's important to make sure those words all make sense together. Let's take a look at this line:

The muffled base of the music flared out as they entered the building, the noise instantly clamped down on their ears.

The flaring of the music is great about capturing that feeling of opening up when entering a new, big space. But then immediately, that idea is contradicted by the noise "clamping down," which gives a sense of something closing violently. Rather than expanding on the idea of the noise in an open space, the rest of the description leaves the reader feeling more confused than anything. But that's okay! There's some great experimentation going on here. Maybe a few different word choices will make that second sentence jive better with the first, or maybe it will be axed to let the first part shine on its own. Just like with the flow I mentioned above, some conscious decision-making that tweaks what works in the piece and cuts what doesn't work will make the whole read cohesive, clean, and beautiful!

The rest flows well from there. Too well, even. The only thing this intro is missing is a taste of the conflict these characters will face in the story. I don't have any sense from this intro yet of what that could be, other than the fact these characters have temperature regulation differences. While I highly doubt the story is going to climax over an epic battle at the thermostat, I have no idea whether this will be a supernatural thriller about two vampires who target their victims in dance clubs or whether this is a romantic comedy about dating misadventures in the goth club scene.

The story could benefit from starting closer to the first major conflict or tension. It could have something to do with the reason Pierre and Arthur are at the club in the first place. Are they hoping to accomplish some goal at the club, or see someone in particular? What makes this club night different from the typical ones they experience? Is a fire going to break out any second? Is a rival going to punch Arthur in the face? Experiment with fast-forwarding to that moment when everything begins. Even a slight change in tone with certain words or key pieces of dialogue could fuel the reader's suspense and desire to keep reading.

Because while I think this scene is set up well in terms of balancing between dialogue and description and all those juicy active verbs, what I really want is this same skill of setup around the first conflict that turns this ordinary night into a story I can't put down.

Would I Keep Reading?
Alas, no for now. Although there's a lot that I like in this scene and descriptions, I want a little more that will tell me what plot-relevant incident is going to happen at this club to change your character's lives forever! But I think you will get there. Feel free to resubmit, because when you get this right, I think I'll be hooked! <3

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

First 250 Words Smash! #46

Most Wonderful Author: Erin Copland @ Tumblr
Most Evil Critique Master: Annie
Working Title: N/A

Zaima could hear a woman screaming from outside the door. She didn’t bother knocking, but limped into the little cottage and paused on the threshold. There was a scent of blood and stale sweat, and the feeble candlelight barely illuminated the main room, just enough to show a man sitting at a table.

“Good evening, Goodman Tanner.”

“Took you long enough.”

“I’m afraid my mule has a bad leg, so I had to—” A woman’s scream cut her off. “Well. I’m here now.”

Zaima moved to go into the back bedroom, but he blocked her way.

“What’s your hurry? It’s not like she’s gonna die.” He laughed at her silence, and Zaima gripped the head of her cane tightly when he grabbed her arm.

“I think you’re awfully pretty, for a cripple,” he said. “Of course, I’m kind hearted.”

Zaima gritted her teeth. “Of course. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll see to your wife.”

Tanner sneered at her before collapsing at the table again and taking a long pull from his mug. Zaima nodded and walked into the back room.

She tried not to wrinkle her nose at the stench that was stronger in this room, an odor of prolonged childbirth. She opened one of the windows, lingering.

“There. That’s a bit better.”

A candle cast flickering shadows on a woman lying in a bed, dripping with sweat, her hands gripping the sheets as she tried to hold back another howl.

“Let it out, Goodwife Tanner,” Zaima said.

Strong Points –

There’s a sort of sparseness of language that really works here. It’s very clean, it keeps things tense, and I love how the short dialogue and the short word choice keeps time with the brief sentences. There’s something very Hemingway-esque about it.

The dialogue is also very nice. There’s a voice to each of the characters here, even if we only get a little from them. The language used and the flow of the sentences give a very good sense of how each sentence is meant to be read, mood-wise. That’s pretty important, given how dialogue tags are used in the piece. They only show up when necessary. That’s something I like, as well, though I hope the rest of the dialogue reads as easily without tags.

My favorite, by far, though, is the tension! It’s an uneasy scene, and I’m a pretty big fan of how the language and the dialogue really comes together to form the mood for this sequence. That’s not easy!

Some Tips –

I think what this scene needs most is tweaking—nothing big and dramatic, but a couple little things that can really punch up the writing.

One of them is about setting. I’m not talking about world-building or anything like that. What I mean is that this piece has a lot to say about the characters, but not much to say about the places they live in or the objects they touch. It’s something that can happen when you get exhausted by reading page after page of long, flowery prose detailing the weather and a blade of grass and the exhaustive family history of the guy mowing the lawn. Nobody likes too much of that kind of stuff!

But this is sort of the opposite. There’s a cottage, and there’s a table, and there’s a chair, and there’s a bed. This is a set, and these are props. But here’s the thing—I want to see as much life in these things as I see in the characters. I don’t mean there should be breaks here where a character carefully surveys their environment for, like, fifteen minutes. I mean there’re a lot of things a woman like Zaima can notice about a place like the Tanner’s homestead. And there’re a lot of small things that can tell you about the kind of people the Tanners are.

I’d love a few details dropped here and there into the prose. Little things, like the state of the floor, or how well the furniture has been cared for. I’m getting the sense that this is a low-tech setting. Is the house well cared-for? What kind of house do the Tanners keep? Has that changed since the Goodwife has been with child? Goodman Tanner seems like he’s been drinking for some time. Does he look drunk? How does that manifest in his body language or his complexion?

There’s a few places where I feel the description that’s already in place could be pushed just a little more. I love the “odor of prolonged childbirth,” but I wish there was a bit more to tell me what that smelled like. Sweat? Sickness? Warmth? Cloying Stickiness? Birth is not a pretty picture, and Zaima would be familiar with it all.

You can craft a lot of good metaphors and symbols for your characters through the way they present themselves and their home environments, because they can impart so much in such a short span of time. Little details, plopped into the prose, would make the setting feel as real as the characters do.

My second thing is a bit more subjective, and it has to do with the pacing of this piece. Brevity is what keeps the tension high in this scene, but brevity can be a double-edged sword. While I really like what the sparseness of language does to the mood here, I feel like there’s a few points where it gets a little too sparse, and I end up confused.

Let’s take the first few sentences for an example.

Zaima could hear a woman screaming from outside the door. She didn’t bother knocking, but limped into the little cottage and paused on the threshold.

I like the first sentence, in theory. A mysterious scream is a cheap, super effective hook, but I feel like this might need to be refined a bit. As it reads, if I take the first sentence by itself, I’m not sure if Zaima’s inside, hearing the noise from outside, or vice-versa. Then, in the second sentence, I learn that she was outside, is now limping inside, but before actually going inside, she pauses on the threshold, which is a word usually reserved for the space right before moving inside.

It’s not that I think every action needs to be specifically described, nor that the reader needs to be led by the hand through a narrative. But little things like this, small things that make me unsure, make me need to re-read a sentence, can cause a break in my immersion.

In a situation like this, where the language is tight and the focal character isn’t wasting any time with lingering, lengthy descriptions, the writing has to hit the ground running in the first couple of sentences. If a reader has to pause and go back to re-read to make sure they’re understanding everything, the tension breaks and the effect is ruined.

This is a tricky scene, so everything has to be written just so, so that the reader never picks their head up, never leaves the tense situation that’s happening on the page. The selection presented here requires a lot more attention to detail than most. I’d say it’s about 75-80% of the way there, as it stands.

Would I Keep Reading?

Oh, heck yeah. Starting off a story with a difficult birth in the middle of the night may be a trope, but it’s my kind of trope. I like what little I’ve seen of Zaima so far, and personally speaking, characterization is what keeps me going in a story. I’m not sure I’d be going on past when the baby’s born, since a scene like that will make or break a midwife character for me, but I like where it’s going. With a little more tweaking, I’d be totally on board.