Most Evil Critique Master: Ange
Working Title: N/A
I swung the brass-
Wait, you need to hear the beginning first. I can't leave it out. I'm sorry.
I want you to know that I wasn't always a bad person before I tell you what I did.
The beginning wasn't at my birth. There were years worth of pieces that tied together to make the beginning.
My father. The way anger would distort his long face. The scar across his bottom lip, shaped like a half moon. The way he'd take me outside in the mornings he was home and watch birds with me. The weeks that went by without anyone hearing a word from him. He would come back with bruises and cuts on his face.
The gun I found under my parents' bed. I thought it was a toy and almost shot Galvin with it. My da' found the hole in the wall and I ran outside, climbed up a tree, hid in the branches until he found me. He leaned against the bark and looked up at me, silent and stiffer than the tree itself. He told me that if I didn't come down right then, I would be sleeping outside. I didn't move until he started to walk away, jumped down from a high branch and broke my ankle. When he made me stand in front of that wall and stare at the hole I made, there was a pale, itchy cast around my foot and cold metal digging into the back of my neck.
Strong Points –
There is a suspenseful feeling at the end of this that manages to draw me in and makes me want to read more. The “cold metal digging into the back of my neck” paired with “itchy cast around my foot” gives me, as a reader, insight into the circumstances in which the protagonist lives, but it also gives a forewarning, a hint, that there’s going to be action further on which is neat. The text does create tension, which is good because tension drives plot.
I also like the attention to accent detail, e.g. “my da’.” It creates a little bit of a background picture and I’m a big fan of getting small tidbits of a background through these little details that are dropped throughout the text, rather than spelling such things out. It’s much more...discreet and simplistic. And it makes it necessary for the reader to think a little for themselves, which I personally think is super neat!
And while I’m on details: I really like the details regarding this person’s father. Just like I previously said, I’m a big fan of small hints being dropped and figuring things out with the help of them, and the attention to detail concerning the father helps me build a picture of their relationship with each other as well as form an idea of who and what the father is like.
Some Tips –
Although I do like the tension, which is a small glimpse of plot, the problem is I don’t really get that much plot. I get promised plot, but then this plot, this action, is paused to give me background, which personally I find a little frustrating. That’s not to say that it’s not a commonly used tool; it’s often used in storytelling between friends, and I can think of three TV series’ episodes at the top of my head that use this technique. They give you a glimpse of action and then “48 hours earlier” or something to the likes, and, personally, I find it equally frustrating each time. However, in a book, this method, usually in the form of a prologue—aside from my own personal frustration—can be somewhat problematic.
First of all, there’s a risk in books, that by doing this the narrative leaves out important details because it’s rushed. And in that case, it might be wiser to simply flesh it out so as to make sure that all important things are included. On the flip side, to be brutally honest, if this scene is not important to the story, then perhaps it doesn’t need to be included.
Every scene should focus on telling the reader a story. Every scene should capture some kind of moment, whether that’s contributing to the story development, conflict, the character development, or necessary background information. If this scene fits into one of those categories, the story might benefit from expanding on the scene and fully fleshing it out rather than rushing through it. When a text is rushed, it prevents the reader from successfully creating a mental picture of what is happening, and anything that prevents the reader’s painting is, unless intended, usually not a good thing. Unless the reader is supposed to be confused, the text should not confuse the reader. The risk is that the reader will lose interest and stop reading.
If the background information is important to the conflict, the story, why is it summarised? If it is necessary in order to understand the rest of the conflict, it should be fleshed out and give the readers all of the information, rather than a summarised version of it.
To illustrate my point, here is an example.
Following is Divergent, rewritten in the same form the above intro is written.
I open my eyes and thrust my arm out. My blood drips onto the carpet between the two bowls. Then, with a gasp I can’t contain, I shift my hand forward–
But wait, you need to know the beginning first. You need to know how I got here.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I was never supposed to choose this.
When we are sixteen we go through the ceremony, the Choosing Ceremony, and it determines our fate. It determines where we will live out our lives.
I’m told it was different before the war. But the war changed everything. Supposedly for everlasting peace we, the population, were split into five factions. We are born and we die in these factions. Many of us are born, raised, and die in the same faction, but some of us are born and raised in one, but die in another.
If you choose a faction that you weren’t born in, didn’t grow up in, you are ripped from your family. You’re only allowed to see them once a year. Faction over blood.
And as a contrast, this is the actual beginning of Divergent:
There is one mirror in my house. It is behind a sliding panel in the hallway upstairs. Our faction allows me to stand in front of it on the second day of every third month, the day my mother cuts my hair.
I sit on the stool and my mother stands behind me with the scissors, trimming. The strands fall on the floor in a dull, blond ring.
When she finishes, she pulls my hair away from my face and twists it into a knot. I note how calm she looks and how focused she is. She is well-practiced in the art of losing herself. I can’t say the same of myself.
I sneak a look at my reflection when she isn’t paying attention–not for the sake of vanity, but out of curiosity. A lot can happen to a person’s appearance in three months. In my reflection, I see a narrow face, wide, round eyes, and a long, thin nose–I still look like a little girl, though sometime in the last few months I turned sixteen. The other factions celebrate birthdays, but we don’t. It would be self-indulgent.
Notice how Roth isn’t afraid to dig into the details here, even going so far as to describe the reflection the main character sees in the mirror. And in this she gives us background, and only background. There’s no interruption anywhere. She’s laying the groundwork for the rest of the story here.
Imagine building a house; if the groundwork isn’t complete, there’s an overhanging risk that the house will fall, or collapse. It’s the same when writing. If there are flaws in the foundation, the rest of the building will eventually suffer.
Roth does very well in beginning her novel where the actual story begins, while still managing to sprinkle important background information throughout the story in a way that doesn't interrupt the flow of the text. However, it’s important to note that there are books that begin with background information (especially in MG literature). It has been done before, it has worked, and it still works. It all depends on what audience you want your story to reach. Storytelling is always subjective, and there’s never any set rule or formula to follow.
Just as well, sometimes things need to be summarised. Too many details, especially if they don’t further plot or character development in any way, may end up giving the text—any text—a 'thick' feeling, hampering the pacing, and that can be tough to read. There’s always a balance to keep in mind, regardless of what you’re writing.
Would I Keep Reading?
I would read the next line, just because of the last line in this text. I’m too curious as to what happens next not to. I’m incredibly intrigued by the taste of plot, there’s something solid there, and with a bit of revision to show the plot more clearly, my mind would probably be changed.