Today's post features a first-page excerpt sent to me from an adult novel entitled MATCHES. (These excerpts sent for critique don't have to be middle grade or young adult, but I'm more familiar with MG/YA.)
Keller focused in on his face and let his eyes in the mirror examine it. Every detail seemed to mock him like a stranger scraping away at the surface, wanting and needy to have every facet naked and discovered. He was so plain. Pale and light, and his eyes looked too old for his smooth skin. Boring holes in the glass, his old self cried to be free from this boring face that hadn’t experienced anything he had yet to experience. Help me, his eyes said. His mouth told his eyes to screw off and go back to sleep.
His hair was bright red; a color which defied the rest of him as his clothes usually wore the black of mourning like a cloaked dawn, waiting and ominous, only just serving the purpose of starting out a day. Keller hated mornings. This was usually the only time he looked in the mirror, so he did it justice by hating it with every fiber of his being. After that he used the rest of the day to forget he was himself and didn’t think about the way he looked at all. Sometimes he was able to fool himself into self-love.
Wording and Little Things
1. The first sentence says Keller is looking with eyes that are IN the mirror. That's technically impossible. Might be clearer to put the phrase "in the mirror" earlier: Keller focused in on his face in the mirror and let his eyes examine it.
2. It should be "Wanting and needing" in the second sentence, rather than "Wanting and needy." (The writer says she meant to say needy, but in order to have that make sense, the last phrase would have to be omitted or placed in another sentence: to have every facet naked and discovered.)
3. "Boring" is repeated twice in the fifth sentence. But perhaps this is intentional, to make a contrast and play on words.
4. "Help me" could be set apart by italics or quotes. I'd go for italics.
5. The use of the semi-colon is incorrect in the first sentence of the second paragraph; it should be a comma. Semi-colons connect two related, independent sentences/clauses that can stand on their own--such as how I just used it in the previous sentence.
1. Looking into a mirror is a cliché way of describing a main character. In this instance, there is purpose for Keller's looking and self-examination, but many agents and editors groan when they see a character being described by mirror gazing. It's best to avoid it.
2. "Boring holes in the glass" initially is confusing, at least to me. I read "boring" as an adjective (as in tedious, yawners) that described holes, rather than a verb to indicate the action of drilling holes. Also, the sentence technically says that his old self is doing the boring, which I'm not sure is the intention.
3. "Keller hated mornings"--it may be better to show he hated them rather than a direct statement telling that he did. Ditto for the last two sentences; let's SEE him using the rest of the day to forget he was himself and not think about the way he looked.
There is some very interesting self-analysis going on here, delving into this character's mind. We get a good sense of who he is, and what his internal thoughts are. I particularly like these sentences: This was usually the only time he looked in the mirror, so he did it justice by hating it with every fiber of his being. AND Pale and light, and his eyes looked too old for his smooth skin. Great descriptions and thoughts there.
PS: Blogger is being ornery the last couple of weeks; the blue I use to help readers skim the post is NOT showing up. Mumble, grumble. So I had to use bold here instead.
Can you add any other helpful comments to the above critique?
Have you ever described your character by having them look into a mirror?
What other, more natural ways can you let the reader know what your main character looks like?