Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Page Critique: Prehistoric YA (+ Awards)

Today's post features a first-page excerpt sent to me for critique. This is taken from a YA Prehistoric-Fantasy novel entitled The Last of Her Kind.

THE EXCERPT
I shadow the teenage boys deep into the caverns and hide in the crevices to watch. I dare not to breathe as they scrape the cave walls smooth with sharp flints. They run their stubby black stained fingers over the walls, smoothing them before they draw. It makes me laugh to see Muhuli steal all the charcoal sticks, the ones he’s taken from the hearth fires, so the boys are forced to beg him for charcoal before they draw. Just like Muhuli to be bullish with everyone.

Muhuli is the pimply boy who drools over me. Every chance the brute gets, he pins me against the cave wall. I smack him with my fists to free myself, but he just laughs like a hyena and does it again. “Mate me Mecha,” Muhuli says licking his lips and rotating his fat outstretched tongue, “You know you want me!”

I’m tempted to rip his tongue out, but Muhuli would only think this gesture was cute and fondle me again. “Muhuli, if I wanted you, you’d be another man.” But there he stands looking down at his wide, splayed feet with that empty look in his boiled, uncomprehending eyes. By the time he gets it, I’m long gone. I’d rather jump off a cliff than mate with Muhuli. He’s got that oily way of sticking to you like globs of animal fat. The more you try to wipe it off, the more is spreads all over you.

The boys step back and study the shape of the wall, memorizing its curves and contours. Their sketches of gored bison, lion attacks, and dueling bucks appear as if the animals are charging towards them, causing lots of laughter and jabbing in the ribs.

THE CRITIQUE
I shadow the teenage boys deep into the caverns and hide in the crevices to watch. I dare not to breathe as they scrape the cave walls smooth with sharp flints. They run their stubby black stained fingers over the walls, smoothing them before they draw. It makes me laugh to see Muhuli steal all the charcoal sticks, the ones he’s taken from the hearth fires, so the boys are forced to beg him for charcoal before they draw. Just like Muhuli to be bullish with everyone.
First Thoughts
The first sentence introduces a sense of conflict right away. The reader is caught up, wondering…hide in the crevices to watch WHAT? She's sneaking around, so something is up.
Little Things
1. I'm not sure "to" is needed in "dare not to breathe." Dare not breathe may be enough.
2. I'm wondering how the boys are seeing if they are deep into the caverns. Do they have torches or other forms of light? Obviously, the girl doesn't have a light, in order to keep her secrecy.

3. Black-stained should be hyphenated; this prevents it from sounding like their fingers can be described three ways: stubby, black, and stained. A comma after stubby would also help cl
arify.4. In that same sentence, "them" is ambiguous or misleading. FINGERS is the subject of the sentence, not the walls, so it sounds like they are smoothing their fingers instead of the walls as intended. Rewording might be good for clarity.
5. Her laughing clashes a bit with her reaction (disgust, loathing) to Muhuli in the next paragraphs. Unless she's laughing in scorn rather than genuine amusement; it's hard to tell which, here.


Muhuli is the pimply boy who drools over me. Every chance the brute gets, he pins me against the cave wall. I smack him with my fists to free myself, but he just laughs like a hyena and does it again. “Mate me Mecha,” Muhuli says licking his lips and rotating his fat outstretched tongue, “You know you want me!”
Character Names
It's always good to vary the names of characters so they don't all start with the same letter; these two names sound close to each other, and may be difficult for the reader to keep straight. Muhuli also sounds more tropical island-y than caveman, but that could just be me.
Clarity of Timing & Tense
1. I'm unsure about the phrase "does it again"--does what, pin her against the wall? She's smacking him to free herself, but I'm getting the impression it's NOT working because he just laughs. So if she's still pinned, how can he "do it again"? This phrase could easily be omitted, in my opinion. Just end the sentence with him laughing like a hyena.
2. When the dialogue began, I almost wasn't sure if it was happening in real time, rather than her past reflection. That could be partly because of the wording used. Perhaps say: Muhuli always says, licking his lips.

Miscellaneous
1. Commas would help for clarity after "Mate me" and "says."
2. Fat is repeated for the tongue as well as the globs of fat. Perhaps change one of these? Maybe a thick tongue rather than a fat one?

3. If a comma is used in the last sentence, You would not be capped. If a period is used, it would be capped.


I’m tempted to rip his tongue out, but Muhuli would only think this gesture was cute and fondle me again. “Muhuli, if I wanted you, you’d be another man.” But there he stands looking down at his wide, splayed feet with that empty look in his boiled, uncomprehending eyes. By the time he gets it, I’m long gone. I’d rather jump off a cliff than mate with Muhuli. He’s got that oily way of sticking to you like globs of animal fat. The more you try to wipe it off, the more is spreads all over you.
Wording
1. Mecha wouldn't actually be able to rip his tongue out--and he wouldn't truly think that was cute if she were able. I think if it was reworded to say "to TRY TO rip his tongue out" it might work better. She would try (and fail), and Muhuli would definitely think it's "cute" that she tried grabbing his tongue.
2. The word "but" is used 3 times in this excerpt, and 2 are too close together. This word is overused by a LOT of writers. Including me, I confess.

3. I like the adjectives "wide, splayed" and "boiled, uncomprehending," but there seems to be a few too many of them, and the construction is similar (two adjectives, separated by a comma). Perhaps omit one? I'd choose to omit splayed, though it's an interesting word.

4. On the last line, is "is" simply a typo for "it"? The more it spreads all over you? Alternately, it could be worded: "the more it gets spread all over you" or "the more it's/it is spread all over you." Seems to flow better with any of those changes. I like the comparison between Muhuli and the animal fat.


The boys step back and study the shape of the wall, memorizing its curves and contours. Their sketches of gored bison, lion attacks, and dueling bucks appear as if the animals are charging towards them, causing lots of laughter and jabbing in the ribs.
I'm a little surprised the boys have the artistic ability to make the animals look as though they are charging toward them, which would probably include the use of foreshortening or shading. I'm also a bit confused in that the walls seemed blank in the beginning paragraph, as well as in the first sentence here, and yet there are animals sketched by the last sentence. Perhaps clarify, here.

Summary: Kudos
The verbs here are nicely active, the opening lines contain conflict, and the details are vivid and effective even though some of them are disgusting, such as the fat tongue and the glob wiping. I like Mecha's spunk and ability to stick up for herself, and found it amusing that she's teasing Muhuli in an intellectual way that takes him a while to figure out. Duh!

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AWARDS
Believe it or not, I've been given yet another blog award--TWO of them, in fact! A big thank you to Alexia Chamberlynn (click to visit) who gave me The Fair Dinkum (good buddy) Award. And a likewise big thank you to Margo Kelly (click to visit) who gave me The Stylish Blogger Award.


As per the rules, some new things about me:
1. I wore braces for 3 1/2 years--but not until I was 39 years old
2. I live in a (non-trailer-trash) mobilehome park in southern Oregon
3. I'm a middle child…yes, the stories are all true about middle children *grin*
4. My mom lives only 1 block away; we quilt together
5. I have a BA in Studio Arts from Pacific University, OR, but I do more writing than artwork these days. The artwork I do lately involves designing webpages, blogs, or logos rather than drawings or paintings.

As per the rules, I'm passing these award on to some new friends. Go forth and meet them! Award Winners: Choose whichever award you like better! You're all stylish bloggers as well as bloggy buddies, so it's up to you.

1. Liz Davis at Novel Moments
2. Patti Nielson at Patti Nielson
3. Paul Joseph at Paul Joseph
4. Michelle Merrill at Perfecting the Craft
5. Katie at Southern Scrawl

YOUR TURN
Can you add any other helpful comments to the above critique?
Do you think the subject matter of this novel is "suitable" for YA, or would it be objectionable to some readers? If not objectionable as is, would it be if it got MORE violent or explicit?

29 comments:

  1. Great sampling, and great critique!

    One thing I wondered about was where it said Mecha was "long gone," but in the next paragraph, she's describing what the boys are doing (which seems to indicate she was in her original peeping position).

    And congrats on the awards, Carol! You are one popular lady!

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  2. Great critique, makes me want to go through my book again more thoroughly and thanks so much for the award. It's always great to feel appreciated.

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  3. Thank you for the award, Carol. I'm bookmarking your critique so I can read it tonight when I can actually concentrate. Stupid day jobs.

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  4. Great critique. You are so in depth! Congrats on the award and thanks so much for passing one on to me!

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  5. Carol, thank you so much for the award.
    I appreciate it very very very much.

    I think the critique is great too, gets right to the core.

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  6. Excellent and thorough critique, Carol! And congrats on your awards. :-)

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  7. Wow, congratulations on the awards and to the recipients!

    I really thought the critique was well done, bravo. You pointed out things that bothered me, but I couldn't figure out why. Now that you've explained them, I will pay better attention-to what I read and what I write!

    Thanks!

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  8. An excellent critique. I got the impression that the middle section was back story, something that had happened previously and she was remembering. Try not to do back story, especially at first. It would be better if we experienced this first hand with the character.

    Congrats on the awards and to the recipients.
    Nancy
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

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  9. This an amazing and very thorough crit, Carol. :D

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  10. I love that you quilt with your mom! I used to quilt and sew a lot! But that was pre-novels. My current WIP is set in mid Oregon so don't be too surprised if you get strange emails from me regarding geography. ;) COngrats on the awards! ANd I had adult braces too, mine were the removable kind, retainers and invisaline. I still were my retainer at night faithfully.

    As for the critique (mine was awesome BTW, I left you a lengthy reply at my blog) I LOVE this first sentence. That alone is a gift.

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  11. I'm a reformed artist as well. My writing takes up all my time now.

    Great critique and congrats on your fab awards! :)

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  12. good job Carol , I also got the impression that mecha was watching the boys from the outside and then all of a sudden she was in the cave with them I kinda got confused

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  13. Great critique. I have to say, I enjoyed this excerpt a lot. The "boiled" eyes really got to me.
    :)

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  14. Woohoo! And a BIG congrats on your awards. Happy Writing and Eat Well.

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  15. I enjoyed the excerpt and you are spot ON with the critique--nicely done!

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  16. Wow, three and a half years is a long time for braces! I had mine for 2 years and it was HORRIBLE enough!

    Congrats on the awards :-)

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  17. What a wonderful critique - so thorough!

    Congrats on the awards.

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  18. What a thorough critique! It's clear and well done. (And I'm sure took a lot of time.!)

    Congrats on the award!

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  19. What a great -- and thorough -- critique. You've obviously spent a lot of time on it, and it shows great editing skills!

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  20. GREAT critique. See, this is why I wouldn't make a good beta reader. I got so caught up in the story (it has me very intrigued) that I glanced right over the issues you pointed out - which were all valid and would make the writing stronger.

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  21. That was a great critique. Can't add anything because you caught everything I noticed, and a lot more!

    Good job author - a nice descriptive teaser.

    I don't think it's objectionable for YA - there is some crazy stuff out there for teens that this doesn't come close to. I was surprised that he asked her to mate him... I was imagining them in the 12-14 range, though it wasn't mentioned yet. But that's just me.

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  22. Wow, this was a great critique and I really loved this piece. This sounds like something I'd like to read. There was a couple of things that struck me, only because it says its a prehistoric piece. The first one is the use of teenage boys and I wonder if there is another way to show that's what they are. The other was 'you know you want me' just because it also sounds too current. But as I said, this is very, very interesting to me. I was so caught up in it I didn't catch any of the other stuff. :)

    Congrats on the awards!

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  23. Nice critique--so much detail! :D

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  24. Congrats on your award! Very well done, thorough critique:).

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  25. Wow what an amazing critique! You are very thorough!

    I'm truly embarrassed to have just realized I'm really NOT following you!! (until now) I SWORE I had followed you already but, I must apologize for my mistake!! I have been missing out on some Carol GOLD!

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  26. Great nformative critique post Carol, thank you. And congrats on your lovely awards!

    PS: I'm still mulling over what send through for my win too ;)

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  27. I think if I were buying a book for one of my teens and I read this first page, I would pass on this one. You're right - it makes me wonder how explicit it might become later in the story.

    For a more mature reader, it might be interesting to see a storyline develop in such a limiting period.

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  28. What a cool story! And great job on the thorough critique. I learn something new whenever I read someone else's work. Thank you.

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  29. Thanks for the award, Carol! I'm so honored ...

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Hi, bloggy buddies! I respond to all comments via email if you have an address linked to your profile. Sorry, I have had to turn OFF comments from Anonymous users due to Spam.