Friday, February 13, 2015

Love A Good Critique?

I'm one of those people who think Valentine's Day was created by Greeting Card companies, jewelers and florists. It was, however, pointed out to me recently that at this time of year there is lots to love and Valentine's Day is the perfect opportunity to show it.
Well...I love being critiqued. I participated in a blog critique a few months ago with Michelle Hauck, where I got fabulous feedback on my Urban Fantasy. Using the other writers wisdom and talent for my own benefit, I'm doing it again.Once more, I'll get 10 superior minds reading and editing my work. Thanks to all of you in advance.
Title: The Third Centurion
Genre:Adult Urban Fantasy-
Word Count: 80,000

Thanks to all the great feedback, I'm posting my first rewrite-feel free to comment and keep correcting me. Thanks to all of you!

A late night break-in at her bookstore ensnares owner Danielle Lyndon in a web of ancient magic when the thief seeks a two centuries old text. Danielle, bound by a familial oath to guard the books, refuses to help the thief’s brother, Aaron, find his runaway sister, especially after Danielle ends up caught in the cross hairs of his paralyzing silver gaze.
Crazy metallic glares aside; Aaron manages to be in the right place at the right time to save Danielle from being run down. When he admits he might be the key to releasing Danielle from her families obligations to the antique collection of books. Danielle offers to help him save his sister.
Little does she know ‘help’ requires her to traipse through the backwoods of Alabama, following Aaron’s newest lead to a collector of stone statuary.
When the collector turns on Aaron and Danielle, they narrowly escape before learning about a group of runaway girls, kidnapped and hexed into stone statues. Caught in his desire for revenge, the collector mistakenly exposes the source of the hex when he unmasks a 600-year-old witch who feeds off of youth and beauty to escape death.
 Unfortunately, Aaron and Danielle are caught by darker powers than they know. They must sacrifice everything to strip the witch of her magic and break the hex before she steals Aaron’s powers to keep her ageless.

THE THIRD CENTURION, my completed 80,000 word Adult Urban Fantasy with series potential, crosses elements of THE ALCHEMIST, with the mythology in A BEAUTIFUL EVIL
I am the author of two romances, Killing Casanova, and Burning Bridger. My short stories, poetry and essays are also published in an anthology by Behind Our Eyes Inc. and in the on-line magazine Magnets and Ladders.   When I’m not writing I work as an editor for Ink and Quill Publishers, co-host a blog talk radio program with The World of Ink Network and support The Utah League of Writers.
I sincerely appreciate your time and consideration in this matter,
Traci McDonald
Staff Editor: Ink and Quill Publishers
Twitter: tracimcauthor 
 35 word pitch-

When one man’s extraordinary magic crosses paths with a dark witch obsessed with youth, He risks his immortality to rescue stolen young women, defend his life and protect the only woman worth living for.

First 250-

Danielle’s finger trembled on the trigger when the dying embers of the fire collapsed into a shower of sparks. The dark form in her sights jerked away from the cascade. She swallowed back the golf ball sized lump lodged in her throat and thumbed back the gun’s hammer. “Ya’ wanna explain what you’re doin’ here after closing time?”
A small gasp escaped from the figure as Danielle slid her hand along the cold wall. Her clammy fingers groped to flip the lights inside the bookstore on. “Better yet,” she said, glaring at the girl shivering in front of the large fireplace. “Why don’t ya tell me how ya managed to get in.
The words were meant to be a fierce accusation. In the flood of florescent lights, the previously sinister intruder reaching for the locked collection looked as if she needed a hot meal more than a defense. Her fine reddish-blonde hair hung over too narrow features, hollow cheeks and wild blue eyes.
“I’m…I…No, don’t shoot.”
A stream of tears rolled down the gaunt cheeks. Danielle forced her mouth into a scowl to  stifle her unwelcome urge to offer the girl a blanket. “don’t move,” Danielle croaked clutching the butt of the pistol until it dug into her palms.”We’ll let the police sort it all out.”

With a huff of pent up breath, she blew a dark tangle of hair off her forehead. Although the burglar was close to six feet tall, the thin girl’s shoulders hunched and her hands fidgeted over the locked glass cases surrounding the hearth and mantle.  


  1. HI Traci,

    This is an awesome idea!

    Bit. I think you're giving away too much of the plot.

    I'd stop after the second paragraph of the query and add what she'll lose if she fails.

    I think this is a much more powerful first sentence: Danielle’s finger trembled on the trigger..

    Also, draw out the suspense longer so we have to guess who she's going to shoot.

    All those "Yas" in the dialogue are really distracting to me; check and see what other critters think.

    Is the MC standing right by the light switch? To add suspense, make her have to slide her hand alongside the wall, panic when she can't find it, etc.

    That's not very fierce. Maybe up it a few levels?


    She's a little too nice too soon. How does she know this girl is trustworthy and why wouldn't she insist on knowing how she got in?

    Blonde (for women); blond (for men)

    Don't need the word, however. It slows down the story.

    This is a great descriptive sentence; use more of this: Her thread bare jeans and black sweater hung from a willowy frame, exaggerating the slight movement of her sneakers inching toward the store’s back wall of windows.

    The girl’s retreat brought Danielle’s gaze past the rows of diagonally placed book shelves to a broken windowpane in the far corner.

    Stronger: Danielle stared past the rows...until she saw ____________________(put more suspense in here)

    If you just add more suspense, this would be great!

    1. Perfect Caroline. I love your step by step corrections. Thanks a million.

  2. I was confused by your query. At first I thought it was a lone thief breaking into Danielle’s bookstore, but the more I read, the more it seemed like maybe there were two or three of them? And why would Danielle “lower her guard” for the thief’s brother? That whole sentence read oddly to me, like it’s missing a word or something. Maybe, “Danielle lowers her guard for the thief’s older brother, Aaron, and ends up helping him track down his sister.” That still doesn’t answer my question about lowering her guard, but at least the sentence reads better. Of course, then the next sentence doesn’t work…Instead of starting with the word “instead,” what about, “She promptly finds herself in the crosshairs…”?

    As I’m looking at this again, I think what’s causing my confusion is that you’re trying to cram too much in here. It reads like a synopsis of the whole book, and in hitting what I assume are the main plot points, I’m confused about what’s happening and why. It didn’t hook me because I don’t feel like I know enough about the characters to care what happens to them or why, and it sounds like everyone dies in the end, so why would I want to stick with them for a whole book only to watch them die?

    I did a quick word count and at 412 words, this exceeds most agents’ recommendations on length (250-350 words). Focus on the first part of the story. I don’t need to know what happens at the end.

    Okay, on to the first 250. I’m not sure what relation the fire has to the gun, and this threw me for a loop at first. What causes the embers to explode? Does Danielle shoot at the fireplace? I feel like this needs to be explained or dropped altogether, because nothing in the following paragraphs relates to it at all.

    But speaking of those paragraphs, I liked them. Fire and gun aside, I got a real sense of the setting and the characters within it. I think this just needs a good bit of polish. :)

    1. The query is way too long, I think I lost my brain for a minute and wrote a synopsis instead. You're corrections are super. Do you suppose a different verb, like collapse' with the embers would give you the idea that the dying fire is settling to send up sparks? I need to figure out if Danielle should lower her guard. I think its deceptive at this point to Danielle's character. I'll work on her motivations there and change the query. Thanks.

    2. Yes! "Collapsed" would be perfect to illustrate that! I'm glad I could help. :)

    3. Kay, I appreciate your feedback. I got rid of lowering her guard all together. It doesn't make sense. Thank you for that and the suggestions about the fire.

  3. Hi, my first thought was the query letter sounded more like a synopsis. Keep it brief, one or two paragraphs about the story to entice the agent to want to read more. Spelling check - forehead.
    Why would she lower her guard for Aaron, someone she barely knows? Why does she feel she can trust him? I enjoyed the first 250. The plotline is intriguing. Congratulations on your publications, and good luck with this one!

    1. Deborah, This novel is a WIP and I appreciate your suggestions for getting it ready to submit. Danielle's motivations for letting her guard down are not clear...not even in my mind. I should never write a scene with convoluted motivations. I'll think on this one. Thanks.

  4. Hi, Traci!

    35 words: OK, so your story sounds fun and full of adventure, but I don't think you're there yet with your pitch. First, it's a little clunky ("of the secrets of the"). And second, I don't see stakes or conflict and I'm unsure who your main character is. And finally, you don't need to restate the title of your novel in the pitch--that's three words you can have back to spend on building interest.

    Query: The first paragraph is a bit confusing. I'm good with the first sentence, but then I'm confused as to why Danielle would lower her guard for the thief's brother. In fact, how does she know it's his brother? And if she does know, why is she helping him? And the word beginning the third sentence, "Instead," doesn't follow from the previous sentence.

    As your query progresses, I feel as thought you're creating too much of a synopsis here as we go from plot point to plot point, which would explain some of my earlier confusion. To answer my questions, you'll need to add more, but instead, you need to be taking details out. The sweet spot for a query letter is 2-3 paragraphs, and you have 5. So what is it that your story is really about? Danielle is your main character, so tell me about her and why I would want to read a book about her. Your witch, I believe, is your antagonist. So introduce her sooner and set up the final conflict--what is Danielle fighting against? Leave out the bits about Aaron and his immortality, leave out the break-in, and maybe even leave out the sister. There's too many details irrelevant to the core conflict.

    The paragraph following your pitch is unnecessary. All you need is, "The Third Centurion is an 80,000 Adult Urban Fantasy." The rest doesn't tell me any more than the above pitch. It's already obvious that it has dark magic and mystery and romance! That is, you've shown, and don't need to tell. :)

    First 250 words: It looked long to me, so I plopped it into a Word doc. If this is for contests, know that they're particular about how long you go. It was 312 words, which is too many for most. You might get a slap on the wrist or, at worst, disqualified. Just wanted to make a note of that! Now onto the crit...

    I can't connect the first sentence with the rest of what's going on. I keep going back to it--is the fire separate or did she fire the gun? I don't think guns looks like that when they're fired... But you're talking about the trigger. I think all this detail is all right, but it needs to be reformatted so that one thing flows into the next.

    The rest of the first page is clear, though, and it sets up the core conflict nicely. The only final words of wisdom I would leave you with are: Go through this with a fine-toothed comb before submitted it anywhere. I see several copy editing problems, mostly missing commas and hyphens.

    Good luck with your pitch!

    1. Samantha, Are you for hire girl? That is a fabulous critique. I can use every one of your suggestions. Thanks. It's not anywhere near ready for submission. I have to have a sighted person go through and look for commas, dashes, and other details most writers can 'see'. That will come before submission. Once again thank you sooooo much.

  5. K, so the comment form won't let me copy/paste the whole thing, so it's just my comments with the connected quotes.

    *Cross the guardian of the secrets of ancient powers with the man who binds evil with his mind. You'll become caught in the magic web of hexes, curses and spells in The Third Centurion. (I would leave this bit out; I’ve heard agents don’t like it when you spin your book like this because they prefer to come to these conclusions themselves)

    *Danielle lowers her guard for the thief’s older brother, Aaron, and his desire to track down his sister. Instead (instead of what?), she finds herself in the cross hairs of his paralyzing silver gaze. (I don’t really understand this line, and I’m a bit confused about who’s who. Does Danielle know the thief? How does she move from meeting the thief to getting the hots for the thief’s older brother?)

    *When Aaron’s haunting eyes captivate, frighten, and save her life (His eyes save her life?), Danielle clings to a legend hinting that he’ll free her from the bookstore. (Why does she want to leave the bookstore? I’m speaking as one of those people who would never leave the bookstore if they could)

    *Added disappearances drive Danielle to research Aaron’s powers, discovering his metallic eyes are the secret behind his conscious ability to hold things immoveable (Can you word this differently?).

    *The third Centurion THE THIRD CENTURION, an 80,000 word Adult Urban Fantasy, crosses dark magic with contemporary settings, unpredictable super powers and non-traditional heroes and heroines. While elements of magic mingle with mystery and romance, they bring to life the story of a modern day centurion and the reality of magic in the real world. (I’ve heard to nix this kind of thing as well)

    K, so while the plot sounds very cool, this query is waaaaay too long. Try and cut it down to about three paragraphs/250ish words. Your first sentence is really good, a great hook, but after that you need to decide which details are completely essential to bare bones of the plot, and use those to drive the query. Also, can you throw in more character motivations? The only motivation we’re really given is Danielle’s desire to leave the bookstore, and I’m not sure why she wants to do that. The plot bones, and more character. :)

    *The dying embers of the fire exploded into a shower of sparks. Danielle’s finger trembled on the trigger. A shadowed form in her sights jerked away from the cascade. (It's a bit hard to picture the scene, can you maybe add in some more specific description?)

    *In the well lit (could you use a more interesting phrase, maybe? More descriptive? “Well-lit” is a bit bland) room, though, the girl reaching for the locked collection looked like she needed a hot meal more than a defense (This makes it sound a bit like she only looks this way while she’s in this well-lit room).

    *The blond (I assume “the blonde” is Danielle, but is this the right time to suddenly stop the story to give us a paragraph on her appearance? Can you show us what she looks like in a more subtle way later on, when we’re not focussed on the intruder and what’s happening here?) was probably close to six feet tall. Her threadbare jeans and black sweater hung from a willowy frame, exaggerating the slight movement of her sneakers inching toward the store’s back wall of windows (This makes it sound a bit like the sneakers are moving by themselves).

    *The girl’s retreat brought Danielle’s gaze (So, wait, is the blonde the girl or Danielle herself?) past the rows of diagonally placed book shelves bookshelves to a broken windowpane in the far corner.

    So, while this is a cool beginning, throwing us right in the middle of the action, I feel a bit too distant from Danielle. Apart from thinking that the girl needs a blanket, what else is she thinking, feeling? Some of your prose feels a little unclear in its wording. Have you tried reading it out loud? That can help clear up some inconsistencies, and places where it doesn’t sound quite right. :)

    1. Awesome, man. Thanks. I wish reading it out loud would help, the thing is I'm blind. My computer reads the whole thing out loud, letter by letter and word by word. I'm too close to it. Having your distance to show me the problems is super helpful. Thanks again.

  6. Hello!

    I think you've got a great story here!
    I would agree with the others in that the query reads more like a synopsis. Try this formula: 1st paragraph =introduce protagonist & why they're unique. 2nd paragraph =Conflict of the story 3rd paragraph =clarify stakes. I found that on a writing blog and it really helped me formulate my query in a simpler way.

  7. That's a great breakdown. I'll try to focus in better. Thank you!

  8. QUERY:

    As a former bookseller, I love the idea of a novel set in a bookstore with a bookstore owner character! Drew me right in!

    No one in retail would lower their guard after being robbed. You may want to think about what it would feel like to have someone come into your business and take something from you.

    I didn't understand until later that you meant literally paralyzing". Explain so it's clear. I was also tripped up by "silver" because I don't know enough about your world yet.

    "Free her from the bookstore". Is she trapped there literally, or does she just want a different job? Why can't she open the door and walk out or simply quit and find a different job?

    The transition from searching for the collector to having escaped his pursuit is too abrupt.

    "While Danielle figures out the books. . . " What books? You haven't mentioned any books.

    Since Danielle is your main character I think you need to be more specific about what the stakes are for her. What's her goal and why does she want it?

    FIRST 250:

    Cascade of what? Unclear. Nice description of the girl.

    From the query it sounds like Danielle is the same age as Aaron and his sitter, but in the first 250 she sounds older. Maybe because she calls the girl "Sugar." I agree that she's too nice too soon. She doesn't know the thief doesn't have a gun of her own.

    Good luck with revisions.

    1. Thanks Jenny. Your perspective as a book seller was super helpful.

  9. Hi, returning the favor :) Thanks for critiquing my entry, though it wasn't in your 10.
    Query - you have a very interesting premise. But I could the query a bit too long and confusing. I'd say pare it down and go for just the most important details. I'll leave my comments in caps to differentiate from your text.
    A late night break-in at her bookstore ensnares owner Danielle Lyndon in a web of ancient magic when the thief seeks a two centuries old text.(NICE HOOK) Danielle lowers her guard for the thief’s older brother, Aaron, and his desire to track down his sister (CONFUSED. HOW DOES THE BROTHER COME IN? FORM A CONNECTION BETWEN THE THIEF AND HIS BROTHER. AND THE PLOT FOR BETTER FLOW) Instead, she finds herself in the cross hairs of his paralyzing silver gaze.(LOVE SILVER GAZE :)

    When Aaron’s haunting eyes captivate, frighten, and save her life (VAGUE. STATEMENTS LIKE THIS BEG THE QUESTION. SAVE HER LIFE HOW? I'D SAY GO WITH THE MOST IMPORTANT DETAIL), Danielle clings to a legend hinting that he’ll free her from the bookstore. First, she must help him find his sister by traipsing through the backwoods of Alabama, following Aaron’s only lead to a collector of stone statuary.

    After escaping the collector’s pursuit, they learn of a group of runaway girls who’ve vanished into thin air. Added disappearances drive Danielle to research Aaron’s powers, discovering his metallic eyes are the secret behind his conscious ability to hold things immoveable. While Danielle figures out the books link him to a lost line of warriors known as Centurions, Aaron learns the magic will preserve his life for a century.

    Confident in his immortal powers, Aaron captures the statuary collector and demands his sister. Before Danielle accidentally casts a spell from one of the books and turns him to dust, the collector blurts the secret of the missing girls held captive in a witch’s lair. (IT'S STARTING TO READ A BIT LIKE A SYNOPSIS. YOU KNOW YOUR STORY BEST. MY SUGGESTION WOULD BE TO STICK TO THE MAIN PLOT. WHAT THE MC WANTS, THE OBSTACLES IN THEIR PATH, AND THE STAKES INVOLVED)

    The 600 year-old witch,
    The owner of a local modeling agency, hexes young women to stone for their youth and beauty, and uses Aaron’s sister to draw The Centurion in to lay claim to his immortality. Aaron and Danielle offer themselves in exchange for the trapped women, realizing too late that Aaron’s unpracticed magic will cost everyone their lives.(I AM SORT OF LOST HERE. THIS COULD BE JUST ME, SO PLEASE SEE WHAT THE OTHERS SAY)

    I started reading your excerpt and realized the thief is the sister. Sorry for being so dense. But maybe clarify that the thief is Aaron's sister?
    Otherwise, my only comments might be to tighten some of the sentences. Nice premise. Definitely an interesting read :)

    1. Hey, thanks for helping me with this even though I wasn't part of your list. You're awesome. All of it helps me so much. I can't see things clearly unless someone pulls back for me. Thank you!

  10. Hi. I really liked your short pitch, but I found the query confusing, especially the part about the brother and sister. I think it would simplify things if you focused on Aaron asking for help after saving Danielle and take the thievery (first paragraph) out of the query.

    The first page is good in terms of the writing, but I feel you started the story too late. I'd like a bit of scene/character setting before Danielle is pointing the gun at the girl. Maybe start with why Danielle was there. What was her goal before she found the girl? How did she notice there was a robbery taking place? I would put the reader in her head a bit more to strengthen the connection with the character before the action.

    Good luck!