Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Page Critique: UNDERGROUND

Today's post features a first-page excerpt of a YA dystopian novel sent to me by Rosie Connolly. She's one of my critique buddies so she's used to me shredding her work! Feel free to add your comments, too.


Andrina—Drina—Whinsted stood at the back of the conductor’s compartment, leaning against the wall. The world—what was left of it—whizzed by. Every time she rode the transport to and from her boarding school, she asked for permission to come to the front for the view, even if only for five minutes. She needed the reminder of how much better her life was on the Inside.

The conductor glance over his shoulder. “Lady Winsted, you should return to your seat. We’ll be arriving soon.”

She nodded and slipped through the door. An attendant smiled at her as she pulled the door shut behind her. Drina nodded and ducked her head, shuffling toward her seat.

The man across the aisle stood and took the three steps toward the attendant. “Why does she get to go up front?”

Drina sunk in her seat.

“She has a clearance,” the attendant said.

The man grunted and sat back down. Drina turned her head away from him toward the wall of the transport vehicle and stared at the blackened windows. She hated being unable to see outside, though she understood why the clearance was necessary. If the general population saw the state of things Outside, they would either protest the banishments or want to send more people out there. But she had to know. She had to understand how harsh it was if she would be the one banning people in the near future.

The thought made her nauseous.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’ll be setting down momentarily. Please fasten your seat belts and be sure to have your seats in the upright position.”

Opening Line
I found the opening a bit awkward, with the dashes. In fact, there are two sentences in a row with dashes, which makes them lose their impact and/or feel cluttery. If the character is to be called Drina throughout, just call her Drina in the opening. Her full name can be slipped in more naturally elsewhere, later on. Only her first name could be used in the opening, especially since the attendant informs the reader of her last name shortly thereafter. I'd keep the dashes with the second sentence, however; they have great impact there.

Wording and Little Things
1. Whinsted versus Winsted for Drina's last name; both versions are used. Pick one.
2. Glance instead of glanced: The conductor glance over his shoulder.
3. She nods twice in the same paragraph: She nodded and slipped through the door and later it says Drina nodded and ducked her head… It's acceptable for someone to nod or do an action twice, but acknowledge it by saying something like "she nodded again."
4. Wrong tense: sunk instead of sank. Drina sunk in her seat. Past tense is sank.
5. Should "outside" be capped, after she turns toward the blackened windows? The other instance is capped; maybe it just means to see OUT the window there, but it seems a bit inconsistent with the other use of Outside.

Other Things
1. The man takes 3 steps toward the attendant; is that detail important? Why not just "stepped"? I wonder if the man even needs to stand up, unless perhaps for emphasis or dramatic effect.
2. Wordy sentence, especially up to "wall": Drina turned her head away from him toward the wall of the transport vehicle and stared at the blackened windows. Are all these phrases and words necessary?--her head (though I suppose it differentiates between her head vs her whole body), away, from him, toward the wall. Maybe I'm simplistic, but I would've just said: Drina turned away and stared at the blackened windows of the transport vehicle.
3. Is Drina turning toward a wall or a window? She turns toward the wall but stares at the blackened windows. Seems slightly contradictory.
4. I would've like to see what Drina saw from the conductor's windows. The line about the world and what was left of it is intriguing, but I wanted to know details about what the Outside world looked like to Drina, as she was seeing it. Then again, perhaps not saying lends a sense of mystery, to coax the reader to read on and find out more.
5. I had pictured the transport as more of a train--especially since there was a conductor--so it threw me off when the attendant said they were "setting down." Is it a flying vehicle?

Summary: Kudos
I love the name Drina. Andrina is nice too, but it reminds me of the word "android." LOL Having the conductor address Drina as Lady Winsted is a nice, natural way to introduce another facet about the character, that she is an important and titled person. The set-up is fascinating, and Drina's conflict is introduced early with the dystopian setting as well as her responsibility for future banishments.

Can you add any other helpful comments to the above critique?
Have you ever written a dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel?
Do you like a sense of mystery as far as details of what is Outside, or would you have liked to read a description of what Drina saw out the conductor's unblackened windows?


  1. All good points, Carol. I could have done some better cleaning before I sent this to you. *head-smack* :)

  2. Great comments, you really point out how important each sentence is, especially in the beginning.

    I thought they were on a train as well, probably because of the conductor. I don't mind not knowing what she sees, we just know its bad. I'm sure descriptions will come.

  3. I love reading your critiques. Thanks for offering such great tips for editing my own writing!

  4. I didn't really think about it till you pointed it out but considering the importance of the condition of Outside, and if we won't be seeing it again for a while, it would have been nice to actually see more of the problem. The hint we get is definitely a good hook though, I'd read more to find out what the heck happened to Outside.
    - Sophia.

  5. I agree that you've immediately set up the dystopian nature of the story and a great conflict/character-builder for Drina right up front. This is good! However, the dashes in the first sentence threw me off a little, too.

    A small nit-pick... I thought she was on a train, until I read through it again. It's a flying transport, right? Maybe as she's up front initially, you can mention she looked down at the Outside...? :) Best of luck to you!

  6. The silly doctor in me hears "adrenal" when I see Adrina. Just ignore me. :)
    Otherwise, Carol, I think you're spot on. The story aleady sounds promising!

  7. Great critique and yes, I agree that the concept is definitely interesting but in some areas the writing just needs a few creases smoothed from it:) My most recent WIP was a contemporary dystopian. There is some information about it at Have a great day Carol!!!

  8. Brillant points as always, Carol. Getting the body turning verses just the head turning messes me up too. It comes down to how important it is to show that detail.

    I thought it was taking place on a train, too.

  9. You were thorough with the critique and I can't add anything else. I agree with everything you said. I do like the excerpt. I want to know more about Drina and her world.

  10. Ah, I never would have caught any of that! Great job and a wonderful hook!

  11. Great critique once again, Carol. I always love reading them.

  12. Great post! I would like to know what she sees. The mystery could be how it ended up looking that way.

  13. Another good critique. I agree with you about the first sentence. But I love the concept and the sense of setting here.

  14. This is so helpful to do this. Thanks to RosieC for being willing to be openly critiqued.


    L'Aussies Travel Blog A-Z Challenge Posts

  15. I agreed with all your comments Carol. Definitely intrigued with the story!

  16. Great critique as usual. I also thought they were on some kind of ground transportation and did not realize it was air.

    I am definitely left wondering about the Outside.

  17. I love your critiques! Are you sure you don't want to be an editor. You could make a fortune. You have such an eye for detail. Have a great day!

  18. I think you pretty much nailed it, Carol. Those suggestions should really tighten it up. This is such a great forum.

  19. Great critique. You're thorough, Carol. I also wanted some info about how the world looked, even a small teaser that leads to a later explanation. This has potential.

  20. I definitely agree about the dashes. It sort of pulled me out of the story. ANd I also agree about the nicknames, because they get me in novels. I llike the entrance to world, but instead of telling me, "What was left of it" ina dystopian post apoc world, show me what is out that window. Draw me into the world that is created on the first page. Great job and good luck with it : )

  21. I really enjoy your critiques, Carol. The set up of this story is intriguing, especially as it's not normally the genre I read.


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