Sunday, February 13, 2011

Kari's Critiques, part 2

Well, our usual Friday critique feature got derailed by illness. Yes, I'm currently living in a house of plague. I've hung a sign on the door that says "unclean" and everything.

That said, here are this week's writing samples, better late than never.

Excerpt 4:

The ribald and paternalistic old man was quick to insult the young paper boy who accidentally threw the Sunday morning paper on the roof. “How could you throw the paper onto my roof?!” screamed the old man. “You are an idiot! A poltroon! A proselyte of the paper delivery industry!” The old man was one of those people who used a lexicon of rare and confusing words, this was his forte. Throwing papers, on the other hand, was not the boy’s forte. He always had trouble tossing papers onto porches, and very often they went down drains, into bushes, and onto roofs.

“I am sorry, sir,” said the boy. “I will get you another paper, sir, I promise.” “I do not want another paper!” replied the old man. “I want THAT paper!” he said, pointing towards his roof. “The one that you ignorantly threw on top of my house!” “I am sorry, sir! But I cannot get that paper for you,” said the boy in a lachrymose tone. “Oh, you will, my boy! You will,” said the old man, “Or I will apprise the paper company that you are stealing papers!” “No, sir! Please! Do not do that! I will get your paper, I promise!” said the boy. “And I trust that today’s delivery will be gratis, correct? A free paper?” “Whatever you want sir, I just cannot lose my job!” cried the boy. The boy became victim of the old man’s rapacity. “Come, I will get you my ladder,” instructed the old man.
For Bobby, the daily paper route was the only way for him to save up money, and every day on this route was an adventure.

First, I promise you that no one knows what “lachrymose” means. I had to look it up myself. Mournful is much better.

This is a good chance to point out voice. It appears to me that your story is told from the point of view of Bobby, the paper boy. I totally believe that this grumpy old man would use words like “poltroon” and “proselyte”, words that speak to his older generation. I have a harder time believing that Bobby would use words like “ribald and paternalistic”. However, I could also see this playing out that because of the old man and his big words (it’s mentioned) that Bobby has taken it upon himself to learn bigger words as a result. It could add an interesting level to the story, watching him look up things the old man has shouted at him.

In the second paragraph, you’ve got a lot of dialogue going on here, very quickly. I might suggest breaking it up more, using paragraph breaks when it switches speakers, just for the ease of the reader. Even without dialogue tags (“said the boy”, “cried the boy”) it can help you keep track of who is speaking.

I’d like more clues as to how old Bobby is. He seems very young to me (an older boy, a teen, would have responded more aggressively, I think) and so it makes me wonder, what does a child of that age need money for? I’m interested in what can be so important to him that he puts up with this abuse.

I’d also like to know what time period this is set in. The lack of contractions on Bobby’s part (cannot, do not) makes it feel older to me. If that’s your intent, you’ve got a lot of good places in here to add some descriptions of clothing, or neighborhood, that could clue us into that.

Excerpt 5:

Oh My Gosh! All I can hear is the beeping and it refuses to stop. It was a long night, I can remember that much. I had finally fallen asleep and I had to get back up. Welcome to another day in the life of a high school senior.

I hit snooze, “Just five more minutes,” I mumbled under my breath as I fell back into the pillow. Before I know it, the beeping goes off again. I consider skipping the day and staying n bed but my upcoming Physics test haunts me.

I roll out of bed, throw on some sweats and a random tee, brush my teeth and head out the door. As I get into my car, I realized my English midterm is due today, and I have been procrastinating. Guess I’ll try and complete it in band while I pretend to play.

Next thing you know, POP QUIZ! Since when do we have quizzes in Spanish? Here comes another big fat F! Hopefully my next class will be easy, study hall as a teacher’s aide. My wish was wrong. Grading little freshman tests for the next 45 minutes. I grab my red pen and jump right in to find way too many failing papers. I feel bad but hey, I’m not the one that didn’t study, at least not yet, my Physics test is tomorrow.

I leave school and head to my safe haven, my car. I tell myself, “Just a few more months, don’t fall into the senioritis path yet. I will be over soon enough…I hope” I drive out of the school parking lot and towards home to attempt to push myself to do homework and study. Here’s to another long night!

First thing I’ll say is watch your tenses. It seems to me that you’re trying to write this in present tense, which is totally doable. (Have you read the Hunger Games trilogy? All done in present tense) But you waver in a few places into past tense. For example, in the second paragraph, you say “I mumbled” instead of “I mumble”. Tenses are hard! I know professional authors who find themselves drifting into a tense they didn’t intend. It’s just one of those things, if you know you do it, you have to be watchful for it in your edits (or have a great beta reader who can help you catch the slips).

You go through an entire school day very quickly here, and at first I wasn’t sure what the point of it all was. Then, I get to the last paragraph, and I see the remark about senioritis, and suddenly, it all made sense to me. I think you could totally do an entire story about a senior in high school, battling to find some meaning to his/her final year. It could be a really good story, in fact.

If that’s your route, I suggest opening a bit slower. The reader needs to become engaged with your character, we need a reason to keep wanting to live his life with him. (I’m saying “him”, ’cause there’s really no clue as to the gender of the narrator, but the voice feels more male to me.) Starting the story with him whizzing through yet ANOTHER boring day isn’t a bad way to go at all. We get the idea what it’s all starting to blur together for him, that the homework and tests have ceased to have meaning. We understand that he sees himself falling into this “senioritis” and that he wants to fight against that drift. I would just expand on it a bit, add in some interaction with other students maybe. Lay some groundwork as to whether all seniors feel like this, or just some. Your narrator doesn’t live in a vacuum, so we need to see how he moves within the world around him.

Excerpt 6:

You did not deserve to be badgered by my immature act for attention. You did not deserve the guilt you felt for the scars on my wrist. The demon inside me delivered a philippic day in and day out. Again I am sorry for my insecurities. Although I will never know if you have forgiven me for my mistakes, I will never be able to forgive you for your revenge. I was vulnerable, lost and lonely and you took advantage of that. My self-respect was downright diaphanous. You fed me the right words to overshadow my common sense. You used brutal humor to bring me down but then used cunning words to apologize. In my mind the good began to outweigh the bad. I began to place you on a pedestal; you were my knight in shining armor. Yet you were my mangled knight; I had broken you so bad that in my mind I needed to fix you. I then began to immure myself from my friends; to me they would never understand my guilt. To me at one point you were all I had. When the monster forcibly stole my self-esteem you were the one I turned too. You were my light in the darken hallway, you began to build up my self-esteem again and you had given me a reason to not give up.

There’s a lot of emotion going into this. Very stream-of-consciousness in a way. I would normally say that this needs paragraph breaks to make it easier to follow, but in a way, it also doesn’t. It’s the rambling of an agitated mind, and so running it all together like this does make a certain kind of sense.

I’m intrigued by the use of the world philippic. It’s not a common word, and most people would probably have to look it up (note for readers: It means a bitter denunciation), so normally I would say strike it and use something else. However, with the voice you’ve created here, it doesn’t totally jerk me out of the narrative. This person sounds educated, coherent, logical, even amidst all the distress. The word works.

I’m not sure, reading through this, if the “you” person is supposed to be a good person or a bad person. And maybe that’s because the narrator doesn’t know herself. (again, there’s no clue as to gender, but the voice just feels female to me) It sounds like they were involved in a very complex, very damaged relationship.

I would like to see this as the opening to a more traditional story. This feels almost like a journal/diary entry to me, and I could see sections like this interspersed throughout a more conventional narrative, following this girl and whatever personal demons she’s battling. That way, we get the true story, and then we get to see how it played out inside her mind as well. Done correctly, it could be very powerful.

Excerpt 7:

Talos was very upset. He paced an abandoned courtyard with no where better to go despite the heavy rain. He conjured a sword and gripped the hilt tightly. Its blade immediately heated till it was red, reflecting his mood. The rain turned steam as it hit the metal. His brown hair and his clothes were drenched. His knee-length dark blue coat had scars to match his. Its bottom edges were burnt and seared, damage done the day his wife died. Talos thought about last four years as he stalked the same path again and again.

Four years ago Talos and Illia, his wife, took in two young Brands, Wil and Fari. They taught the two as they did with countless other. This much Talos expected of himself, the newly Branded deserved to understand their new powers. Talos and Illia had mentored young Brands for almost a century, but they never got involved past that. But then he and Illia became champions of Wil and Fari’s foolish cause. As near-immortals Talos and Illia had lived apart from the troubles of the world. When they finally got involved Talos was left alone, left with all the troubles of the world.

They had died one by one. First Fari died in fight with another Brand, who was then killed by Wil. Almost a year and a half later Wil himself died in battle during a long campaign to avenge his love. Then half a year after that Illia died saving Talos. Poor Illia, Talos thought.

Talos could not believe that she was gone. They were supposed to live forever, not worrying about the turmoil around them. If only he had not given to her when she wanted to help Wil and Fari. If only he had died instead of her. If only -

Then it hit him, hard enough that he stumbled and his sword slipped from his fingers, dissipating before it hit the ground. It was no longer raining and the sun shined more brightly than usual. Talos was not alone in the courtyard anymore. Illia stood in front of him. She wore her dark brown jacket with frilled cuffs protruding from the ends of the sleeves. Her curly blonde hair looked wild while perfectly under control. Best of all were her eyes, large beautiful pools that Talos could lose himself in. Illia grinned and shook her head, as she did when Talos was making a fool out of himself. Then she reached out and touched his face, the touch made him gasp. The cold damp air shook him from the vision, and he was back in the rainy courtyard.

Talos breathed heavily, clouds shooting from his mouth in spurts. He now understood that these were events of the past and that they weren’t changing. He could blame himself for Illia’s death, but where the blame lies doesn’t matter. Talos never lived up to the image of an aged immortal; the years had granted him neither wisdom nor temperance. But now he was resolute, and he knew that nothing would get better unless he fought for it. That idea was what made the others die for cause that he never devoted himself to. Now all of that was about to change.

Holy epic fantasy, Batman! A genre near and dear to my heart.

Gonna start with that first sentence, and talk about show vs. tell. You tell us that Talos is upset, but you could show us instead. Especially when there’s so many different KINDS of upset. Is he angry? Is he sad? Is he embarrassed? Let us see how he’s feeling at that moment, and we’ll figure out that he’s upset for ourselves.

Love the image of him conjuring a sword and heating it red hot in the rain. That simple action tells us SO much about this world right from the start. Also love the part where he drops the sword and it dissipates before it hits the ground. A good magic system so far, I’m interested to see what else is possible.

I have to say, I’m intrigued by this world you’ve started building. The Brands imply that this is something special, something important. I like the idea that these near-immortals got drawn into a very human war that they never intended to fight. You’ve got a TON of story potential here. It almost makes me feel like this is a Book 2 of a series. You’ve got enough backstory to make an entire novel out of what came before.

That said, be careful with dumping backstory on your reader like this. You’ve included a lot of facts and events which could be trickled into the story later instead of just heaped on all at once. If this were a Book 2, then the info-dump recap of past events would work, to remind the reader what had come before. But if you want this as a first book, doling it out in pieces might work better.

Your character’s resolution in the last paragraph seems to come on suddenly. I’d personally like to see him struggle with it a bit more, or at least get the sense that the struggle has been going on for some time before this moment. Love the idea that he has “neither wisdom nor temperance”. For another look at an immortal who never mastered the benevolent sage concept, try reading Brent Weeks’s Night Angel trilogy.


Again, the kids have delivered an amazing range of work! Everyone give them some applause for their courage. Like always, anyone is free to add opinions in the comments, but anything cruel or hurtful will be deleted, and I will curse you with the fleas of a thousand camels in your belly button.


Lela Gwenn said...

My kid (and thus I) know what Lachrymose means-- courtesy of Lemony Snickett! :)

K.A. Stewart said...

I stand corrected! Maybe I need to invest in some of that word-of-the-day toilet paper or something... ;)