Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Page Critique: The Twin Suns of Innis

Today's post features a first-page excerpt from a YA fantasy novel that I wrote in 1996 and recently unearthed; this is one of my shelved novels, but I thought comments might help others. Add your feedback too!

THE EXCERPT

The Twin Suns of Innis

The twin suns of Innis glared down upon Niesha like relentless glowing eyes from the sky. Niesha winced, and shaded her eyes.

Why did she swelter out here in the fields each day, harvesting wheatseed until she felt like bread crisping in a too-hot oven? Merenkin didn't require her to work like this, nor did Merenkin's easygoing husband Toff. She guessed it was simply that she preferred the year-round fieldwork to sitting around embroidering posies and setherbirds on linen edges. Merenkin's three plump daughters were welcome to that daily routine.

Tight-lipped, Niesha swung her scythe back across her row of wheat, watching it fall into splayed heaps by her sides. She hacked with intense energy, as though her arms were fighting the bland color of her world. For grain's sake--yellow, yellow. Everything was yellow, from the golden double suns to the endless march of wheatfields that stretched to every horizon. Even her hair was traitorously yellow, long and wheat-straight.

She paused and closed her eyes against the swirl of grit in the air. Her hot damp palms smoothed her apron skirt. Ah, how wonderful it would be to immerse herself in cool greens, to plunge like a wildthing into the sea. The sea had to be green, didn't it? Or blue. Yes, blue sounded lovely, too. It couldn't be yellow. Yellow was the color of boredom and sweat, the color of a deserted child.

She was that child. Deserted at age five, left in the Wheatlands for twelve long years.


THE CRITIQUE

SPECIFICS: Words, Italics
1. I'd ditch the "Ah" in the second to last paragraph.
2. I'd ditch "simply" in the second paragraph. That adverb is not necessary; when it comes to adverbs, more is less, and this one doesn't add much. I see "traitorously" as more necessary.
3. Perhaps use a different word than "wildthing." A more specific creature, perhaps?
4. Perhaps omit the italics on "that." It's not good to overuse italics; it begins to lose effectiveness. I kind of like the emphasis on "yellow," though.
5. Five instances of weaker "to be" (was, were) verbs are used here, that could perhaps be made stronger by more active verbs.
6. Omit "endless." It's redundant with "that stretched to every horizon."

GENERAL: Conflict, Pace, Telling
7. There's internal conflict here but no outer conflict yet. Outer conflict does arrive soon (the following page), but again, the story needs to be streamlined and the pace livened/quickened.
8. This is somewhat of a slow start. This section goes on a little long without any action happening--it's all internal thoughts. Action does begin on the next page, but if I were to rewrite this, I'd trim this opening.
9. A lot of it--especially the last sentence--strikes me as author explanation/intrusion (telling). It would be better to introduce this info in a more natural place, but at least reword it to sound less info-y. In the last sentence, I suppose I was trying to let the reader know her age. *grin* I suspect I was also trying to describe her appearance in the third paragraph, although it's not as blatant as having her look in a mirror (never do that!). It would be better to SHOW Niesha interacting with Merenkin and Toff, as well as with the plump daughters. That way readers can see Toff's easygoing nature for themselves.
10. There may be too much similarity to THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH by Carrie Ryan. In that novel, the main character's primary goal/desire is to visit the sea.
11. I had publisher interest in this novel, but it was eventually rejected. The editor said she was "not convinced enough by the fantasy world" to add it to their list. If I were to query it today, I'd label it as LIGHT fantasy.

YOUR TURN
Have you ever begun a novel in a similar way, with a character reflecting?
Do you object to coining combined words like setherbirds, wheatfields, and wildthing?
Do you think one page of internal dialogue is too long--did you feel like this is somewhat of a slow start?

44 comments:

  1. I love reading your critiques.

    I like the last line and would maybe start the book there.

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  2. Personally, I would not open a book with reflecting. Maybe have an action or conflict or murder scene, then a reflection as to events that led up to this event.

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  3. Your critiques are always helpful! I had an editor look at an opening scene I'd written that had a character reflecting as he jogged. She told me to start with the action right away. Reflection can come in later.

    Carol, you have an award waiting at my blog!

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  4. Excellent critique, and of your own work even! I don't know that I could take such an objective look at my own writing. I think this is great. I actually really liked the third paragraph and didn't mind the reference to her hair color there. Perhaps cut down the first two paras, and maybe have Merenkin say something to her about her work - she pauses, reflects briefly. The last line is great, but I'd bring it in sooner. Just my humble opinion - I think you've really got some lovely writing here. :)

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  5. I liked the third paragraph the most. Maybe if you opened with that (it feels less reflective than the others since she's doing physical work), and grounds the writer in the setting very nicely.

    I think the pace of the passage would benefit from cutting the second paragraph completely, and as others have said introducing the foster family in the scene.

    I can see why it garnered interest! I look forward to the great tips from other critique sessions!

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  6. I think this is a great excerpt, you are definitely a fine writer! I agree with the others, I would start with more action or conflict, and maybe move the last two sentences forward. I love 'Yellow was the color of boredom and sweat, the color of a deserted child.' and think it might make a nice opening sentence.

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  7. Carol,
    VEry interesting...a couple questions; Are you going to attempt to get it published? 2.) What made you 'shelve-it'? 3.) When you critiqued it, were you looking through your eyes or what you thought others might see?

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  8. I liked Niesha's feelings about the colour yellow and how her reflections on her surroundings segued into her thoughts about yellow being the colour of boredom. It was also a great way to show setting details.

    Your critique is correct as always though that there are better ways to start the story than reflection (even when done well) and her internal conflict might be better shown by having her around the plump daughters then needing to get away, even to the boring yellow landscape. She sounds like an interesting character.
    - Sophia.

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  9. You know my thoughts on the word 'upon' ;)
    Apart from that you made good points. I do like the combined words. I like the mood you've created and the yellow world. I can 'see' it without effort. I don't mind a book opening with reflection, but it would have to move on pretty fast. A full page is too much these days I think.

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  10. I think you're right about it being a slow start. In fact, the first sentence is all tell and no action, and a LOT of extra information to put the reader into the fantasy world. Telly.

    I have definitely started this way. I don't know if you read/remember one of my first false-starts at the Mansion on MONARCHY, and I might not have even posted something so horrible. Anyway, the original version was 10 PAGES of internal thoughts and monologue. *gag* But that was a thousand moons and many version ago. Thank the spirits!

    Great critique of your own stuff. Not that you wouldn't be, but it's awesome that you'll put yourself out there for open critique as well as posting other people's work. And, as always, your thoughts are insightful and helpful :)

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  11. Great crit, Carol. You've obviously come a long way since you wrote it.

    I agree about the slow start. Action is a good place to start, as long as we have a sense of the character first and their emotional state. If she was in the midst of a battle with zombies, I wouldn't care if she survived or not, unless I have some emotional connection with the mc first.

    I know I would cringe if I critted some of my earlier projects. :)

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  12. Agree with cutting the "ah" and starting faster. I love how beautiful the first bit is, but it is just a tad slow for needing to snag attention. Great stuff though!!

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  13. I agree with what you said. Though, I like "traitorously," it gave her a voice. It's always difficult to catch that first chapter. We are told to introduce the character and establish their world and at the same time to make it dramatic and full of action. I'm not sure the two are possible. But maybe I'm wrong.
    Nancy
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

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  14. I love invented words, nuthin wrong with 'em. But I do think that a page long internalization is SLOW. It's infodumping, who needs that? That's how I feel.

    Glad to meet a fellow crusader!

    ♥.•*¨ Elizabeth ¨*•.♥

    PS--happy friday!

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  15. Great self-analysis! I agreed with almost all your points, except I really liked how you snuck in a character description by mentioning yet another yellow thing, her yellow hair wheat-straight. Also, I don't think a longing for the sea is overdone or couldn't be used just because it was used in another novel. Just have to find a bit of twist to it, or give another related longing, maybe.

    The twin suns gave this a very SF feel, rather than fantasy.

    new follower/crusader

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  16. So brave! I like that you did this though. And you did my favorite thing: you shelved it and then brought it back. Okay, so you have a slow start, that's okay, now you know and you can fix it. Hope you put the revised piece up for us.

    New follower and fellow Crusader here. Best of luck to you!

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  17. Hi Carol, this is such a great idea!!! What a fantastic way to share your talents and support other writers :) Looking forward to Crusading with you :)

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  18. Crusader stopping by to say HELLO! I'm a new follower. It'll be great to get to know you, Carol:-)

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  19. Crusader here! Just wanted to say that I loved this excerpt, even sans critique! I fell into the story and descriptions immediately. It was lovely to read :)

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  20. Great critique, I think you got it covered, and I also like Stephen's comments too.

    Have a lovely weekend!

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  21. Hello, fellow Crusader! Thanks for the follow, I'm following back. I love unearthing trunk novels, it's one of the best ways to learn, in my opinion. Seeing your old mistakes you used to make is so encouraging, knowing that your writing is much better now!

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  22. Hi Crusader :)

    Personally, I would change the title. Unless the suns are going to be a main character, of course :)

    Thanks for visiting my blog - it was much appreciated :D

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  23. Hey there fellow crusader - what a neat thing to do, critique your older writing. Hmm, maybe if I could get someone to type up all my stuff from the 90s... Well, first I have to find them; they're all in bins in the closet somewhere...
    I do like the combined words though!

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  24. So glad I just stumbled across your blog from Trisha's. I like the way you posted this - put yourself out there to help others. Fantastic!

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  25. I also edit as I go and don't just barrel past it and come back a long time later. It's interesting that you've put it on your blog...

    Dropped by from Rachael's crusade list to say hello! Looks to be a lot of fun already! Cheers!

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  26. I'm pretty new to critiquing other peoples' work, so I'm fascinated to read articles like this.

    Anyway, fellow crusader, it's good to meet you. Thanks for dropping by my blog.

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  27. I edit as I go as well. I don't seem to be able to move on until I've got the bones right. I can go back later and add detail, but the skeleton of the scene has got to be there for me to move on to the next.

    Big wave from another crusader. I'm making the rounds to say hi. . .although not as quickly as I'd like! Have a great weekend!

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  28. Hi Carol, Nice to meet you and thanks for stopping by my blog yesterday.

    Your excerpt is intriguing. I particularly liked the line: "Yellow was the color of boredom and sweat, the color of a deserted child." Interesting world-building.

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  29. Hi fellow Crusader! Very thorough critique, although I don't think you have to worry about it being too similar to Carrie Ryan. Characters have same the same motivation but be in vastly different worlds. :)

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  30. Fantastic critique, as usual. I really love the last line! Hope you're having a good weekend, Carol.

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  31. Hello fellow Crusader! Southern Oregon? I grew up in Salem! (Live in NC now.)

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  32. Greetings from Southern California.

    I added myself to follow your blog. You are more than welcome to visit mine and become a follower if you want to.

    God Bless You, ~Ron

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  33. I didn't read everybody eles's comments, so this may have been mentioned before, but I would not use the word "eyes" twice in the first paragraph. I really like the crispy flatbread analogy. Well done.
    Oh, and thanks for stopping by my blog. I'm a fellow crusader. :-)

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  34. You gave some great advice. Very useful. Also, I'm stopping by as a fellow crusader and new follower. On to the first challenge!

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  35. Great crit, Carol. I thought there were some lovely turns of description. I was really in that wheatfield! I liked your comments about it, in general.

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  36. Carol, my internal editor has taken over before and took things out and put things in. I don't object to combining words when you are creating your own world. All of this is very useful to me. Fellow crusader and follower. Thanks for the post.

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  37. Great critique! And an amazing job on your own work nonetheless :)

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  38. I love how you've offered up your critique on your own work! That's fun. I think it's a lovely start. Yes, it's internal thought, but you've mixed in current action, too. Plus you've set up what she wants pretty fast, which I think is good. And I have no problem with made up words!

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  39. Critiques (good ones w/ specific feedback) are awesome for any aspiring writer to dig their writing teeth into.

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  40. Hello, fellow Crusader.

    It's great to go back and critique one's old stuff. There's so much more perspective once you have a couple/few novels under your belt!

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  41. I love invented words. They work beautifully in fantasy. Who says that in that world, the word isn't real?

    It's funny that you posted THIS scene. I almost started my current WIP with my MC in the field, but realized that it didn't actually give the reader anything they needed. Instead I started it with dialouge, and it's a pretty decent beginning for a rough draft. Maybe you move the scene indoors, a conversation with the mentioned sisters, while your MC reflects on the fields?

    Just a thought. Good luck writing!

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  42. I'm a Crusader finally making the rounds. Thanks for finding our blog! I'm so excited to have found yours. I'll be back to see more of your critiques. I really liked that she attributed boredom to yellow and her goals in life were based on going somewhere with color. christy

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  43. I think women like refelction more than men. I love passages of delicious description like in Lori Lansen's 'The Wife's Tale' which seems to break all the rules and I still love it. I also like action and a good pace to novels, so it's combining the two which is what I'm trying to master. :O)

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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.