Thursday, November 13, 2014

Fall First Hop Critique

One of the blogs I follow- michelle4 laughs-is an author, editor and and a talented writer in many forums. She is sponsoring a blog-hop critique where I can post the first 250 words of my manuscript and recieve up to 10 critique's by other writers. That being said I've got one more day to get my name on the here's what I've learned so far. Attempt #3:
Adult/Urban Fantasy

The Third Centurion

 “its one book,” he mumbled into the darkness. “What’s the big deal?
Lowering his fevered head to the frosted pane of glass, he tried to calm his pounding heart beat.  Winter wind clutched at the scorched sensation emanating from his body, his breath steaming the window of the book store
For the last three days he’d gone inside, browsing, inspecting the collection, listening as she refused to sell the books.
Tonight, however, With the last car’s departure from the parking lot, he’d  hunkered down amidst the oaks and pines to wait for the store to close. The wild tangle of  trees and underbrush kept his car almost invisible to the owner.
“Don’t do this, son,” his father’s voice lectured him even though he hadn’t seen the old man in five years.
I can do something about it tonight.I don’t have any other choice.
Steep roof lines and a white-washed wrap-around porch formed a silhouette against the charcoal sky as he crouched on the balls of his feet to inspect the window frames. Wires and components for an alarm system hung in a jumbled mess beneath the sill. “Someone’s broken in before,” he whispered. “This will be easy.”
A slight movement stilled his body against the pale siding. He needed to disappear into the sparse foliage lining the flower boxes.The crack of  whipping branches dropping pine needles onto the cedar shingles sounded like footsteps. Nothing else moved, he was still alone.
Relief washed through him,but the scorching fire in his chest erupted into white hot flames


  1. I love UF, but this opening doesn't hint that's there's anything otherworldly going on. While the descriptive imagery is good, nothing actually happens to move the plot forward, so I'm getting the feeling that maybe your story might not be starting in the best place. Of course, that's only one opinion. Others could feel differently. The internal dialog and beating his head on the steering wheel let me know that he's frustrated, but don't really offer any insight into his character. Also, is there a reason you don't name the main character here? It seems like you're trying to up the tension by making him wait, but I think actual breaking and entering adds enough tension, so I think you could start there and then pepper in the details of what he's looking for, why he needs it, and why he needs it tonight. Hope this helps.

  2. I understand that you were trying to establish tension while MC waited to break in, but it did seem like overkill for an opening. I agree it would be more exciting to just break in and blend in some of this tension throughout the actual entry. I think you need to choose how you present MC's thoughts, either italics or quotes, not both or rotated. The best I can tell, only the MC's thoughts have been shown here but you've varied the way you presented them. You have some nice descriptions here and it sounds like a really interesting start to a story, just needs a little tweaking.

  3. Thanks for the feed back. I can tell what you're saying as far as more movement or action. "Other worldly" was supposed to be in the 'feverish flesh' 'scorched brain' and 'heat boiling in his chest' If you have suggestions on how to make this more obvious I'd love to hear them. The quotes and italics are my fault. I don't know if you can tell, but I'm blind. I can't see what is or isn't italicized. The dialogue is just dialogue. It's not supposed to be italicized. I appreciate you pointing it out to me. Of all the times I've had it critiqued, no one's ever said anything. Thanks again. I'll go to work on it.

  4. Traci, I didn't know you are blind. I have some experience with blindness so I know that you depend on feedback for those issues. I was talking about internal dialogue vs external dialogue, if that wasn't clear in my comment. Since the MC is apparently the only one in the scene, it could be stylistic choice to italicize the internal dialogue. Paranormal is not a genre I am very familiar with so I'll let someone else talk to you about that. Good luck moving forward with this.

    1. Sherry, I did understand the stylistic difference between italicized thoughts and words. I have a novel coming out in 2015 where the MC here's the voice of her dead friend . He is the helper character and his words are both italicized and in quotations. I appreciate you letting me know what you 'see' that might be off. It gives me the opportunity to inspect my work line-by-line and character-by-character if I need to. This kind of feedback is especially important to thanks
      I've taken your other comments and we-worked my first page. I think I'll re-post it so if you're interested take a look at it. No critique necessary. Once again, the feedback is critical for me and I never get offended.!

  5. This is a great place to start your story, with the protag committed to a risky course of action. Knowing where to start is a strength many writers don't have. Already I want to know what this book is, why it's so important, and what will happen if he doesn't find it.

    Is there a reason your protag doesn't have a name? It'd be easier to start to identify with him if he had one. Expressing his uncertaintities and having his father's voice as the voice of his conscience do a good job of bringing him to life, though.

    Unfortunately I wouldn't read on because this is overwritten for my taste. It's drowning in adjectives. You even tell us we're in Alabama twice--I'm not sure we even needed to know that once.

    The choice and placement of adjectives is a tricky but essential writing skill. A rule of thumb is only to use one adjective per sentence. That's not set in stone; there will be times when two adjectives or even more are essential to meaning. But it's a place to start.

    Pick the noun in your sentence that you most want to emphasise or modify. Choose an adjective that will evoke rather than describe--scalding rather than hot, for example.

    The frigid wind wrapped its icy fingers around his burning body, his breath fogging the window of the old house.

    Let's see--four adjectives. If we take them all out we get this:

    The wind wrapped its fingers around his body, his breath fogging the window of the house.

    It's a bit of a clunky sentence anyway because I'm not sure if 'his' refers to the wind (the subject of the first clause) or the protag (the subject of the second clause). It could probably be usefully rephrased so the subject is consistent. But where will an adjective do the most good? Which noun in the sentence is the most important--the wind, the wind's fingers, the protag's body or the house?

    I don't know why his body is burning, btw--is he hot with shame? or from running? I'm assuming he's not literally on fire :).

    I think I'd go with icy. Almost everything in the sentence is about the cold, so an adjective emphasising the use of his breath fogging will have the effect of emphasising that it's cold. Frigid and icy are basically doing the same job, burning is obscure and old is not very evocative. So:

    The wind wrapped its icy fingers around his body, his breath fogging the window of the house.

    There's a book I've found useful called Word Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively by Rebecca McClanahan.

    Most importantly, though, don't let too much info-dumping and explaining detract from the urgency of the moment in which you've placed your protag. Many of the details you include can wait :).

    1. Wow! This critique is awesome. The help with adverb, information dumping, sentence structure, all of it is so helpful. I have a tendency to over describe and spend too much time in my characters heads, so I'll work on that. You'd roll your eyes if you could read the rest of this scene-its worse. I'll go see if I can find that book in audio, it sounds great. Thanks.

  6. Rhetorical questions are generally frowned upon in the lit world. Starting off with two so early is bound to turn some agents/editors off.

    I don't like overuse of pronouns in the beginning. Can't "he" have a name?

    The text is pushing into the purple a little far for my tastes.

    Although there's some tension, and you seem to be working toward something (good!) nothing really happens here, just look at all of "his" actions.

    lowered his head
    stepped back
    allowed his thoughts a chance to slow
    scanned the roofline (you don't need to tell us his eyes did this, there's no other part of his body suited to the task)
    studied the windows
    turned his gaze upward
    inspected the house
    he remembered his father's words

    That's a LOT of observing and thinking. The only physical action he takes is a step back. It's great that we get a sense of who he is through some of the introversion, but he only needs to look at the house once. Literally half of his actions here are looking at the house in one way or another. IMO you've got to trim this down to get the action moving forward and things need to happen on the first page.

    1. Thanks Mark, His action in the first page is lacking, I'm trying to re-arrange the events so there's more happening. I have to be careful not to under-develop the character in order to drive the plot. There is a fine balance and I'm still looking for it. His name is not used because his character is important but his identity remains a mystery for awhile. Thanks again.

    2. If you want him to remain a mystery, you can give him a name based on his attributes, "The Tall Man" or something. At least it gives me something to hang on to. You don't have to give his proper name, but IMO he needs a name.

    3. That's a great idea Mark. I'll toss around some ideas I can use for his identity. I wondered what to do about it because lots of people notice it. Thanks

  7. Hmm, I didn't get the special powers aspect of this until I read your comment replies and reread the sample. Now I see them, but they sort of got lost in the text because we don't actually experience whatever is going on with him, we only have the anticipation of it, and it's mixing with what could be normal nerves over a break-in.

    Part of the issue might be that there are too many things introduced and hinted at here. We have the absent father. The brewing whatever is inside the MC (a name would be nice). The book- why this book, why tonight. It's a lot of questions. I'd suggest taking out the part about the dad, because on my first read I did think the dad was there with him.

    Smallish thing: he says it's just one book, it's no big deal, but his heart is racing. I'm not sure if he's supposed to be an unreliable narrator or if that's indicative strictly of whatever's going on with him physically.

    You do a great job of setting up the tension surround something that is about to happen, but I'd like to get to it a little sooner. Best withes with it!

    1. I can see what you mean with his father's voice. I'll take another look at it, the pace too. Thanks for the help. I'll keep working.

  8. I actually picked up the hints of otherworldly by the excessive references to abnormally hot body heat. This really intrigued me, though a few word combinations (scorched sensation emanating from his body, The crack of whipping branches) made me pause mid pace because of how difficult they were to read. But over all, I like this alot and would read on to find out if he makes it into the store and gets the book he's willing to steal.

    E.G. Moore

  9. This is on Attempt #3.

    There's something about this I really like. I think the scene is a good one - waiting to break in and steal the book. The idea of a book being so important immediately gets my interest, and if I picked this up in the UF section, I'd definitely have a hint that the heat references are otherworldly. So I'm intrigued - good job.

    That being said, I agree with others that you could tone down the adjectives/adverbs. Stick with the tension in the character.
    - the opening line about 'what's the big deal' doesn't make sense since he's planning to steal it and everything else in the writing makes it a big deal.
    - the dad's voice is fine, but starting it with quotes makes us think it's actual dialogue until we read the rest of the line and it becomes clear it's just in his head. Consider reversing the order: He could practically hear his old man's voice, "Don't do it son." And maybe try to make what his dad says more personal, something that tells us of their relationship. For example, "Don't make yet another mistake" or "Don't throw away everything we've worked for".
    - apparently he's standing in front of the window just checking things out. Doesn't seem like the way you'd sneak about before a break in. When a slight movement 'stills his body' he's all of a sudden against pale siding. You make it hard to figure out where exactly he is and what exactly is around him. We don't need you to spell everything out, but we need some consistency so we can paint a picture in our mind.
    - one of your comments suggested this isn't the MC, which is why you don't name him. That can work, but lots of people get turned off when a book doesn't start with the MC, especially when it isn't clear that this isn't the MC. Lots of agents will reject because of that. Something to think about.

    Again, the tone and idea of the piece really draws me in. The writing does need some work, so that would hold me back. Take some time and carefully study the writing of some of your favorite authors, preferably in your genre, and I think you'll see what we're talking about. Good luck!

  10. Thanks for your compliments and suggestions. This has been a project I really want to do right, so every word is valuable. More setting, less descriptors, change dialogue with absent father. I really liked this suggestion, it will be better if he explains about the voice before the reader sees it. Thanks again, I'll keep working.