Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Page Critique: COUNTLESS

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Today's post features a first-page excerpt from an adult urban fantasy novel entitled COUNTLESS by Alexia Chamberlynn. (Feel free to send your own 250-word excerpt if you don't mind being a guinea pig for the benefit of other writers! How-to on sidebar.)


THE EXCERPT
Prologue

He had found his prey at last. An expanse of gold veined marble was all that separated them now. His eyes traveled the distance to where she stood by the elevators, turned away from him, completely oblivious to the fact that she was being hunted.

From his vantage point near the doors, he scanned over the throngs of people in suits and skirts. They meant nothing to him--his every malevolent thought was focused on only one person. Countless years had led to this day, his day of reckoning. A smile curled his lips, and then he began to move.

Like a shadow he crossed the room, sliding among the crowd. Brushing up against a pinstripe sleeve, a wave of disdain came over him. Humans. Rushing about, leading such pathetic lives. Thinking themselves the height of creation, yet in reality so weak and easily destructible. Which would soon be demonstrated.

He was half way across the room now, passing to the left of the large mahogany reception desk, his target straight ahead. She wore a pale blue skirt that just touched the back of her knees. His eyes traced the moon pale curve of her bare calves, down to her black stilettos, then back up to the raven hair cascading halfway down her back in loose curls. And although she was turned away from him, he knew her face--the full lips, thin nose and most of all the deep green eyes. Green like a highland meadow or a piece of lustrous sea glass.


THE CRITIQUE

Stronger Sentences: Those Pesky Weak Verbs
"To be" verbs like was and were usually make for weak sentence construction. They have their place, but they can often be swapped for more active verbs, or the sentence reworded to omit them. In this excerpt there are 4 was verbs that can be altered, perhaps like these examples:

1. An expanse of gold veined marble was all that separated them now.
REWORDED: Only an expanse of gold-veined marble separated them now.

2. They meant nothing to him--his every malevolent thought was focused on only one person.
REWORDED: They meant nothing to him--his every malevolent thought focused on only one person.

3. He was half way across the room now, passing to the left…
REWORDED: He'd crossed half the room now, passing to the left…

4. And although she was turned away from him, he knew her face--
REWORDED: And although he couldn't see her face, he knew it--

Wording and Little Things
1. Gold-veined and moon-pale should be hyphenated as units describing marble & curve.
2. I believe it's pinstriped sleeve rather than pinstripe sleeve.
3. Half way should be one word: Halfway.
4. Omit at least one "then": A smile curled his lips, and [then] he began to move. "Then" is an easily overused pacing word, especially in action scenes. It's used twice in this short excerpt.
5. Omit SUCH and SO as extra or melodramatic words: Rushing about, leading [such] pathetic lives. Thinking themselves the height of creation, yet in reality [so] weak and easily destructible.
6. Omit that he passed to the left of the desk if it is not important. Details like this clutter the reader's mind if they don't pertain to the plot or add to the understanding of a scene.
7. Repeat: PALE blue skirt and moon-PALE curve; omit one. Perhaps say light blue skirt?
8. Turned is used twice on this page; omit one. "Was turned" can be reworded; see above.

Other Things
1. Second sentence: it could just be me, but I interpreted the marble expanse as a vertical wall rather than a horizontal area, and I had to re-orient myself.
2. Third sentence: His eyes traveled the distance to where she stood by the elevators, turned away from him, completely oblivious to the fact that she was being hunted.
Because of the sentence construction, with He as the subject, the turning sounds like an action the MC is doing. I almost expected a series of (his) actions after the comma. This needs to be constructed so it's clear the woman is the one who is turning and being oblivious.
3. "Completely oblivious" is slightly out of the Being's POV--how does he know she's "completely" oblivious? He could be being cocky or assuming, but it comes across more as omniscient. Although if he's an otherworldly Being, it may be possible he's 100% certain.
4. Omit OVER (scanned over): From his vantage point near the doors, he scanned [over] the throngs...
5. Slightly cliché-ish: Like a shadow… And exactly how is his movement like a shadow? Since I later learned he's invisible, I'm not sure it matters if he's moving stealthily or clumsily.
6. Raven hair may be a tad cliché or romance novel-y. The raven-haired, green-eyed beauty.
7. Green eyes are rather cliché these days. It seems everyone has green eyes, especially if he/she has special powers/abilities.
8. This line seems unnecessary: Which would soon be demonstrated. It's obvious she's the focus of his destruction if he's hunting her as prey. The line is kinda melodramatic, not needed.

Kudos
The first sentence is a good kickstart. The opening is intriguing, generating immediate interest. The Being's disdain for humans is a great, natural way to indicate he is NOT human. Tension increases further when the Being remarks on humankind's weakness and ease of destruction; the reader knows he aims to destroy the raven-haired woman. I love the image of the moon-pale curve of the woman's calves, nicely combined with the black stilettos and the blue skirt. Likewise, the lustrous sea glass is a lovely image.

YOUR TURN
Can you add any other helpful comments to the above critique?
Did anyone else besides me read the marble expanse (2nd sentence) as vertical, like a wall?
The next chapter will be from the woman's point of view. Do you think this posted excerpt should be a Prologue or Chapter 1?

29 comments:

  1. Yay! Thanks for the critique, Carol. Extremely helpful. You rock!

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  2. You did a great job critiquing this one. I love the passage as well as all of the advice.

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  3. I agree with most of the critique, I have to in order to prevent dire consequences (she's my wife). However to add a little different perspective for the author, I believe that the sentence, "yet in reality [so] weak and easily destructible." should leave the so in tact. I believe it adds to the emphasis of how weak we are compared to the un-human creature. Just my two-cents. Take it or leave it. It was free :)

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  4. You do a great critique! I have problems with the pesky words as well.

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  5. Yep, I read the marble as a wall rather than a floor. Great critique along with a great excerpt. It's an intriguing passage. The only thing I could add is that in para 3 he crossed the room and then in para 4 he was only halfway. Maybe it's just me.

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  6. Holy cow, that is an amazing critique. You rock!

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  7. I love your crits, Carol, especially the explanations why you would change things (like the passive tense). That's when it becomes educational.

    I like your hubby's take on "so". I would keep it too, but it really is subjective.

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  8. Another great crit, Carol. I also saw the marble as a wall, not a floor. And also agreed on the passive verbs.
    So far, an interesting passage with mystery!

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  9. The voice and POV in this excerpt is engrossing, and supports the first line assertion (“He had found his prey at last.”) that our MC is a predator. The descriptive prose is well done; I have a basic concept of the room, the distance he has to cross to encounter her, and a strong sense of the inconsequential peoples that stand between HIM and HER. There is also a strong sense of impending conflict.

    But . . (there is always a but, sorry)

    The second line (“An expanse of gold veined marble was all that separated them now.”)
    doesn’t appear to have anything to do with the room, or the two focus characters. I can’t exactly see where the gold veined marble is placed, since it is not an obstacle that separates his view of HER, or “the throngs of people.” He sees clearly from his “vantage point near the doors” to “where she stood by the elevators.”

    I also lose connection with the perspective character in the description of the distance and the people. And the fact that I don’t know “what” this predatory character is. Some suggestions for tension and connection:

    1. After that awesome first line, describe the “prey”: She wore a pale blue skirt that just touched the back of her knees. His eyes traced the moon pale curve of her bare calves, down to her black stilettos, then back up to the raven hair cascading halfway down her back in loose curls. And although she was turned away from him, he knew her face--the full lips, thin nose and most of all the deep green eyes. Green like a highland meadow or a piece of lustrous sea glass.

    Then add his movement toward her - from his “vantage point near the doors (what kind of doors?)” as he made his way “Like a shadow he crossed the room, sliding among the crowd (change to “throngs of people”). Brushing up against a pinstripe sleeve, a wave of disdain came over him. (make a hard return here for his intense emotions)
    Humans. Rushing about, leading such pathetic lives. Thinking themselves the height of creation, yet in reality so weak and easily destructible.” (Deleting the obvious line “Which would soon be demonstrated.” The reader knows something interesting is about to happen, the foreshadowing is unnecessary - eats word count.) And end his stalking at “to where she stood by the elevators.”

    2. The “humans” remark clearly shows this character is not human (or at least thinks of himself as above human intelligence); and suggests that maybe the prey is not either. I like that you’re keeping both identities a secret for a moment, but I’d suggest dropping a hint as to the POV characters origin.

    If he (I’m assuming) is vampire, he will “sense” her (and everything/everyone around her) through psychic connection. Heartbeat, pulse, body temperature, affect. What he doesn’t wish to hear/see/feel has to be consciously blocked out.

    If he is werewolf, everything will be a tactile and olfactory sense. Smell, taste, hearing, touch. Even focusing on his target prey, other sensory input will have to be consciously ignored. Werewolves are easily distracted in their youth, and ignoring the call of instinct would be a sign of maturity to support the statement “countless years had led to this day, his day of reckoning” even though I’m recommending deleting this line because it is telling, not showing.

    If he is demon, there is an implied psychic connection also - but without the sensory perceptions. Extremes of good and evil will attract the demon stalker, but he will more easily file away the impressions later usage. Demons have an almost “Santa Claus” like ability to keep track of good and evil for later reference. They focus myopically on a single target of interest.

    Contrary wise; if this POV character is human; then you still need to hint at that, but the focus would be on the “prey” - revealing what species the target is in the very next paragraph following this. The encounter will be essential to setting up both character and overall plot.

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  10. If both predator and prey are human, then I’d probably be disappointed by the first line; even if I picked this novel up in the mystery/suspense/thriller/horror section. Using terms like victim, object of vengeance, callous perpetrator . . These terms would ground the genre.

    Whatever the genre (I just get a strong sense it is Urban Fantasy) you need to (strike that: I strongly suggest) firmly ground that in the first few paragraphs. You ever buy a book in the fantasy section of a book store only to find it was a romance in a fantasy setting? Or vice versa? Let the reader know right away what the genre of the story is (that you intended) and if a librarian misplaces it; well, you’ve let the reader know right away and they can read further with confidence in the author. And, by placing world building/species hints, the reader builds trust in the author by having his/her knowledge vindicated. Lets you place viable red herrings later, if called for.

    While the flow is a little disjointed, I am intrigued by this opening, and would read on to the next few paragraphs at least. The premise of this story is intriguing, and the writing ability enticing. I’m anticipating a unique world building experience, and strong, conflicted characters that blur the traditional lines of good and evil. The disregard of the “prey” to the danger the predator presents could either be a confidence in her ability to overcome any danger the presents itself; or a victim’s ignorance that anything is wrong in their world perception. Either circumstance presents a conflict to be resolved in some manner for the POV character; and is an enticing premise for the story line.

    OK: I wrote my crit before reading Carol's or any other comments. What I want to emphasize here is: Take what you can use of my crit, and disregard the rest. I should not have posted such a long critique, but I'm interested in this story, based on the 250 words posted.

    I'm not disputing any of the posted comments; cuz I haven't read them yet. Probably my bad; but I don't want to argue with anyone. This is just my perceptions.

    ALWAYS, Always weight your own perceptions with offered feedback (I'm talking about my own two cents worth here.)

    .......dhole

    .........dhole

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  11. I wish I had your brain Carol. I really do. It would save me tons of revision based heartache!

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  12. I love how you critique Carol, you break it down so well :)

    Hugs,

    Rach

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  13. Oh this is very neat!! I just read a post from Natalie Fischer about prologues....

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  14. You did a great job, Carol. I really enjoyed this excerpt - I found it very powerful; almost hypnotic. Getting rid of the 'was' and 'were' would certainly make it stronger.

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  15. This is all such good stuff!! Thanks, guys! Keep it coming :)

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  16. Great job, Carol. Really, as always.

    This excerpt sucked me in. I would read more of this. It needs some polishing, but it's a great start.

    Interesting question re: the chapters. Will all of the following chapters be from the woman's POV? If so, then maybe this should be a prologue. If it jumps back and forth in terms of POV, it could go either way. Who's the true MC? That could also determine it.

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  17. Ah, you are just so wonderful with these critiques! Just for fun - you've got 685 words reviewing a 250-word excerpt. A critiquing queen! :) Kudos to Alexia for an intriguing snippet of story! I wish I had more to add... although I did read the marble expanse as a floor. No trouble there. I'm PRO prologue! Especially if the pov is changing. I know a lot of agents don't like them, but I think if it's gripping enough and integral to the story - go for it!

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  18. I just want to say how good you are as an editor!!

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  19. This was an EXCELLENT critique. Very nicely done. It was also an interesting piece of writing too!

    I'd definitely go with a chapter 1 over a prologue. :)

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  20. This is an excellent excerpt and a helpful and illuminating critique. Thank you both for giving me things to consider as I start revising.

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  21. Feedback is such a helpful thing, isn't it? Glad you shared this!
    Happy weekend,
    Karen

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  22. Wow, Carol. This is the first of your critiques I've read. Wonderful and thorough. I will definitely check them out from now on.

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  23. This is a wonderful critique, and though it wasn't long, I learned a lot. Thank you for posting such a helpful article. I will remember that one about "to be" for sure.

    I thought both the beginning and the end were wonderfully done, especially the descriptions at the end. But the middle lost my interest a bit, when the descriptions slowed the pace of "his" movements, perhaps just me though.

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  24. Great critique as always, Carol! I collected some good tips for my own use;)!

    The only thing I'd add is to take out "to the fact that..." (This is the last sentence in the 1st paragraph.) Avoid using "the fact that..." or "due to..." You can leave those words out completely or use "because" if necessary.

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  25. Great excerpt. Carol, that is a fantastic crit!

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  26. A thorough critique! I like how you break it down, Carol.

    I liked the excerpt too. ;)

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  27. That first sentence is great! The whole thing is really nice. I agree with Carol's thoughts about the marble--it first seemed like a wall. And we all go nutty with the pesky weak verbs. That's where that second set of eyes helps so much. Great job!

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  28. You do a great job writing critiques!

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  29. Supposedly prologues are "out of style." My vote's for Chap. 1.

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