Wednesday, March 30, 2011

PAGE CRITIQUE: Traitor of Somaleris

Today's post features a first-page YA fantasy excerpt sent to me for critique.

Traitor of Somaleris

“Listen.” Tarreck grasped his friend’s arm, staring ahead into the shadowed edge of the clearing. “You can’t possibly have missed that.”

“Hear what,” Dallmerin replied in a loud voice that accurately displayed her disinterest for whatever she wasn’t hearing. “I don’t hear any—“

Tarreck swung around and clamped his hand over her mouth. “For the love of Krehl, Merin, be silent! If you would just listen, rather than talking so much…”

“Well I don’t think there is anything to hear,” Dallmerin hissed at him after wrestling his hand from her mouth.

Tarreck sighed, rolling his eyes in exasperation. They sat in silence, Tarreck glaring out into the night, Dallmerin glaring at the back of Tarreck’s turned head. What did he expect her to hear anyway? After all this was the king’s wood, not the Traitors’, and they were not out doing illegal hunting. They did not have to watch for anything. So why would anyone be watching for them?


Dallmerin grabbed Tarreck’s shirt and he looked back, his fear reflected in her eyes. “You heard that,” he said.

“Yes, but what is it?” she mouthed at him, unwilling to make any further sound.

“Nothing more than you are to me,” a new, taunting voice replied from the covering darkness of the trees that surrounded them. “You are unwelcome to me and therefore I am unwelcome to you. Yet you won’t be anything after I kill you.”

Dallmerin and Tarreck jumped to their feet, drawing their swords.

Character Names and Gender
I couldn't tell whether the names Tarreck and Dallmerin were male or female at first. So it's good the writer specified "her" and "his friend" with the actions and dialogue lines.

Starting With Dialogue
As mentioned before, it's generally advised not to start with dialogue--BUT I have to say this excerpt doesn't blindly jump into an incomprehensible scene so it's more readable than other stories that begin with dialogue.

Point of View
It was difficult to tell whether this excerpt is from Tarreck's point of view or Dallmerin's. It's usually a reader's assumption that the first character who appears is the main character--which is Tarreck--and yet the reader is in Dallmerin's head when she thinks: What did he expect her to hear anyway? and the rest of that paragraph, even though it starts off with Tarreck's action. So I'm thinking it's Dallmerin's story, but introducing Tarreck at first threw me off a little.
Either that or it's an omniscient narrator who accesses all thoughts and points of view.

Other Things
1. To me, the swords "appeared" at the end. I didn't know what the characters were wearing or carrying, so I was surprised when they drew swords. An earlier indication might be nice.
2. Need new paragraph after Dallmerin grabs Tarreck's shirt, for dialogue line. It's confusing otherwise; the paragraph starts with Dallmerin's action but the dialogue line is Tarreck's.
3. Dallmerin hisses/talks before the reader knows her mouth is uncovered: Dallmerin hissed at him after wrestling his hand from her mouth. The action of the wrestling would come first sequentially, so the reader should experience it that way.
4. Don't need the phrase "in exasperation," which tells rather than shows Tarreck's emotions. If he's already sighing and rolling his eyes, his emotion is obvious--and shown.

Wording and Little Things
1. Question mark needed after "Hear what" in the 2nd paragraph since it's a question.
2. "Hear/hearing" is repeated 3 times in the second paragraph and once again later.
3. Commas could be added on 2 sentences: What did he expect her to hear anyway? (after hear) and “Well I don’t think there is anything to hear" (after Well).
4. Contractions might help the flow, like weren't out doing illegal hunting instead of were not and don't think there's anything to hear instead of there is. Especially the latter, since it's dialogue; not using contractions sounds formal, and most people don't talk that formally.
5. "Unwilling to make any further sound" is not needed. It's obvious she's unwilling by the fact that she's mouthing the words and trying to be quiet.
6. "Turned" is an unnecessary word; could omit: glaring at the back of Tarreck’s turned head.

Summary: Kudos
This excerpt flowed well and the conflict is apparent right off; the first lines indicate something is going on without making the reader feel like he/she is dropped into the middle of a confusing action scene. The names are great, Tarreck and Merin. "For the love of Krehl" is a neat, unique invented exclamation or oath. There is good sound effect and tension using Snap in italics.

Can you add any other helpful comments to the above critique?
Do you think the beginning of this excerpt works, even though it begins with dialogue?
Do you like to read/write in the fantasy genre?


  1. Hi Carol, And Happy Wednesday to you too! This excerpt was interesting. I like the suspense in it. I'd maybe strive for a little more clarity and connection. Dallmerin's first line of dialog, fur example, doesn't quite make sense to me. If someone says, "Listen", I'm more likely to respond with "Listen to what?" rather than "Hear what?"

  2. Great critique as usual, Carol! I liked the tension in this excerpt and the end was a nice cliff-hanger. I want to know who that menacing voice belongs to. I think I would like to see a bit more setting, though. A bit more...atmosphere. All I know is they are in the woods. What else do they sense? They're hiding. What are they waiting for? What do they see, hear or not hear? I think this would just add more punch to the tension of the piece. My humble two-cents. :) Nice job!

  3. After reading Domey's comment and going back to the dialogue I agree, since Tarreck didn't actually say didn't you hear that, her "Hear what?" comes out of nowhere. You couldn't have missed that would lead more naturally into "Missed what?". And I was thrown when we heard Dallmerin's thoughts after being introduced to Tarreck first and assuming it was his POV.
    - Sophia.

  4. I agree with the above comments, and yours, too, of course, Carol :) The only bit I could add would be about villain dialogue. This is something I'm frequently guilty of, so I guess I'm the pot calling the kettle... Anyway, the dialogue of the hidden person seems stilted. It would work for me if it ends up being a friend of theirs who's trying to mess with them, but if it's a true villain, it's too wordy. And do villains really say they're going to kill someone? Why talk about it? Just do it, especially in a situation like this in which there's been no build up outside of the characters' heads.

    Overall, I like this. I would read more. Thanks to the author for sharing his/her work.

  5. Hey Carol...I think Rosie's thought about talking about killing; don't talk about it; just do it!
    the thing I tell my, don't tell!

  6. I think your critique and the others bloggers comments cover the problems. Only thing: I don't think there's a problem starting with dialogue. If it's a strong dialogue scene, I think it can be very effective. I see dialogue as action since there are at least two people communicating.

    Good job, as my daughter would say! And thanks for stopping by my guest post at L'Aussie's. I'm having a lot of fun on my publishing journey. I keep meeting a lot of great people who happen also to be writers!

  7. That is an excellent critique. However, if the author changes this sentence: glaring at the back of Tarreck’s turned head. To glaring at the back of Tarreck's head, it becomes a cliche.
    N. R. Williams, The Treasures of Carmelidrium.

  8. Great critique Carol! I love reading your comments and I always try to apply them to my own books. Thank you for all your hard work!

  9. I always learn a little from reading these. Thanks to the author for a great read, and to Carol for her eagle eye.

  10. Very nice critique. I'm not a fan of opening with dialogue, because I want to meet the characters and know which one is the MC before they talk, but you're right that this worked OK.

    It was obvious what the MC's problem was. (I assume Tarreck is the MC.) We get setting and conflict right away. Strong opening.

  11. Another fantastic critique. I agree on the gender thing.

    I loved the tension here and I think the writer did a very good job at building it up in the scene. I do think the sentenced could be pared down a bit -- less wordy -- to really let the tension shine through.

  12. Great critique! I think starting with Dallmerin would make it clearer that she's the MC, since the rest of it seems to be from her POV. The reference to "his friend" at the very beginning makes me think Tarreck will be the MC, but that only lasts a couple of lines. Maybe something as simple as 'Tarreck grabbed her arm' would make it clearer.

  13. THis is so great that you do this, Carol. WHat a wonderful way for everyone to learn together.

  14. I'm... going to rather not crit. I terrify people if I don't warn them beforehand.

    Although, I must say, I think the piece showed potential.

    I love that you do this though.


  15. Great critique. I would also love to 'see' the scene a little clearer. The swords also took me by surprise. Great tension though and I'm curious about what happens next :)

  16. I have a feeling this is an action-packed story! Nice. I wonder if a brief paragraph would be a better start...grounding us in the time and place. Just a thought! But well done :D

  17. Nice excerpt, and great critique as usual Carol! I had to read the line "For the love of Krehl, Merin..." several times to understand it, I think because it took me a minute to realize that Merin was the nickname and because of the two names right next to each other. I also agree with Rosie that the villain's dialogue was a bit too wordy. Great job though; an excellent start!

  18. I gain so much reading other people's critiques. I can apply them to my own writing. :)

    Have a great weekend.

  19. Excellent Crit. Very interesting story and so wonderful to read your comments on it. Thanks for sharing this. :)

  20. Great crit. I always learn a little something with these. :)

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