Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Page Critique: SHADOWS & LIGHT

Today's post is a first-page critique of a YA fantasy entitled SHADOWS AND LIGHT by CherylAnne Ham. Please add your feedback to help!

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Shadows and Light

I neared the wooden chair set at the opposite end of the room. The council watched in silence. Their judgement burned hotter than the fires blazing in the twin hearths. Black shadows whirled and danced up the gray stone walls, and orange-yellow firelight battled the darkness invading through long narrow windows.

Sweat beaded on my brow.

I turned and sat, forcing myself to meet their stares. As I waited for something, anything, to happen, I became hyperaware of every movement. I blinked too often. My hand twitched once in my lap. Could they hear me breathing? No. They couldn't possibly.

The wet sound of chairman Beane clearing his throat broke the silence. "Please state your name and age."

His white council robe hung from thin shoulders, and his watery eyes bulged as if he'd been slapped hard on the back. Mother had described him as direct and rational. Stories of the punishments he'd dealt alluded to a deficiency in compassion.

I gathered my strength. I had broken no laws. There was nothing to fear.

"My name." My voice cracked and I took a deep breath. "My name is Jazzlyn, daughter of Fayette and many great-granddaughter of Alexandrina. I was born on this day seventeen years ago."

Another deep breath. No need to be afraid.

"Very good." The chairman nodded. "And do you know why we've called on you today?"

I had a pretty good idea, but was it appropriate to tell him so?


Character Names
It could just be me, but the name Beane reminds me of the comedian Mr. Bean in the UK. (Whereas my daughter said it reminded her of Sean Bean from LOTR, ha.) Also, even without that connotation, since a bean is food, to me it sounds informal or comical--rather than the idea of the compassionless, severe council leader I think you're going for. It sorta depends on how his character plays out, and how much he's a force to be reckoned with.

Number of Adjectives
There are a fair number of adjectives in this piece. I love to sprinkle them around liberally myself, and always have to pare them down (if I notice they're there LOL). Only keep adjectives that truly add to the descriptions. For instance, shadows are usually black, and aren't stone walls usually gray? Ditto for the flames being orange-red--however, that sentence as a whole does have a rhythm that seems to compare the various colors, which might make the adjectives more acceptable. In the first sentence of the fifth paragraph, however, almost every noun is described. A white council robe, thin shoulders, watery eyes. Are all these needed?

Wording and Little Things
1. I thought "judgement" was misspelled. It's usually spelled without an "e." But apparently I guess it can be either way--although with an "e" is the British spelling.
2. Why "turned and sat" instead of just sat? The MC was facing and walking toward the chair and the council, so she shouldn't have to turn. Or…at least I assumed she was walking toward the council at the same time she approached the chair.
3. I'm not sure of the "wet" sound of clearing Beane's throat. Clearing a throat seems more a raspy, dry, or rough sound to me. Also, clearing his throat in general makes Beane sound like he's nervous for some reason. Is he?
4. Kind of an echo with "good." Beane says "very good" and then Jazzlyn thinks "pretty good." May want to change one of these.

Summary: Kudos
I found mostly little picky things. There is a nice lyrical voice here, which lends itself well to the fantasy genre. I especially like the phrasing the "deficiency in compassion." Jazzlyn seems a character the reader would come to relate to, and there is a good sense of conflict in these first 250 words. We want to know WHY Jazzlyn has been summoned by the council on her birthday. Even though Jazzlyn tells herself she has nothing to fear, the reader suspects something more negative or sinister is going on, which creates good tension and interest.

Can you add any other helpful comments to the above critique?
Do you think clearing someone's throat could be a "wet" sound?
How do you feel about the number of adjectives in this piece?
What do you think of having an antagonist with the name Beane? Does it seem to fit for the chairman of the council?


  1. You astound me everytime, Carol, with your crits.

    I keep wanting to spell judgment with an 'e' but spell check tells me I'm wrong. But I'm originally from England, and Canada (where I live) uses British English, now my wanting to spell it that way makes sense. Spell check doesn't like it because I've set spell check to the American version. :D

    The wet cough sounds like Beane has a cold. Or pneumonia.

    Great beginning, CherylAnne!

    Thanks Stina. :D
    Carol, thanks so much for this excellent feedback. Those adjectives, especially in the first paragraphs hadn't jumped out at me until you mentioned them. Now they're all I see. LOL. I will be doing some cutting there, for sure.
    Regarding the name, Beane, That's an easy change and I'm not attached to the name. I definitely do not want it to sound comical.
    Great catch with "I turned and sat" MC is actually walking past the council to get to the chair, and then she turns to face them. I can see how that is not clear.
    Thanks so much! :) You've helped me a ton. Can't wait to see what others have to say as well.

  3. Great eye, Carol. I tend to agree with the name Beane, but overall, I enjoyed the excerpt.

    Also, if you're going to keep some adjectives, I like the thin shoulders reference. :)

  4. I think it sounds like a great story. I'd flip the page. Since this sounds like the first, I am guessing, I would simply suggestiong taking out the words and phrases Carol mentioned to get in more action. Take out everything you can to give a bigger glimpse into the story rather than setting. Yes, setting is important, I agree, but I think if you give readers a tiny conflict earl they made read on more. I hope I made sense. GOOD LUCK : )

  5. Great job! I think you covered a lot on such a short piece. I should get you to critique something of mine when I have it ready.

  6. Great excerpt and great critique. Well done on both counts. The only thing I would add is a minor picky thing. Instead of a period at "My name." I'd out an em dash: "My name--" to indicate an interruption in the speech.

  7. @Jessica - Carol does such a great job, right? Good to know you like the "thin shoulders". Thanks so much for reading.

    @Bekah I'm so happy you think it sounds interesting! You totally made sense and I'll be cutting out some of those descriptors. Thanks for your comment.

    @Clarissa Thanks! Carol gives such great feedback and it's great to get fresh eyes on a story.

    @Lynda. OMG. Thank you. I wasn't sure how to punctuate that. An em dash sounds like just the thing. I'm glad you like the excerpt.

  8. You may have to start charging for your crits, Carol. They're spot on.

  9. I like the story. I can relate to the adjective issue. It's always so fun to plug them in. Lately I've noticed in revising that I'm tossing a lot of useless stuff out. Judgement looks funny with the "e". Didn't know it could go either way. When I first started writing I used really weird names, so I'm okay with Beane. :)

  10. If this is too much, feel free to tell me to shut up-- this applies equally to Carol and Cheryl!

    The first line is kind of 'meh'. Someone is walking towards a chair; it could be the start of any number of books. The council watching, and their judgement burning hotter than fire, those are things to emphasise. Both raise questions: what kind of council is this, why the stern judgement? Those questions are much more intriguing than who is this person, and why do they want to sit down. The idea of a council quickly establishes genre, too. I like the atmosphere of the first paragraph's last line since it reinforces the idea of opposition between the narrator and the council.

    In the third paragraph you could cut the MC narrating that she became hyperaware of every movement, since in the next few sentences you *show* that. You show the MC's fear really well.

    Other than those things, I liked this excerpt. I'm curious what the MC has done to get dragged in front of the council, and I'm curious about the council themselves.

  11. @Laila Thanks! Yes, I've dropped the "e" I'm not sure when I started spelling it like that... weird. :D

    @Sophia Thanks for the feedback. I understand what you mean about the first sentence. I've been back and forth on that part in the 3rd paragraph you mention. I thrilled to get your take on it. You're comments are a huge help!

  12. you are a superstar-rockstar for doing this, Carol! How awesome. And I think your crits are right-on. Best of luck to CherylAnn~ :o) <3

  13. Nice opening!

    I agree with Carol about the adjectives - they slowed the flow of the scene. But, I was fine with the wet sound - it made him seem creepy and unlikeable right away. I would watch out for overly used phrases like "sweat beading" and try to come up with something different.

    I really liked this. Good tension. Great job, CherylAnne!

    Awesome crit as always, Carol!

  14. @LTM - I can't agree with you enough about Carol's super critting skillz!

    @Alexia - Thanks so much for the feedback. With "wet sound" I was going for a phlegmy noise. (yuck, right?) :D I'm curious how many people think wet is okay, vs something like raspy, etc. I gald you liked the opening!!

  15. I was defintely pulled in. I know her age, she's in trouble, and she lives somewhere differnt than the most of us. That's pretty good for one page.

    I might combine the first two sentences and avoid begining the book with "I."

    Why is sweat beading on the brow it's own paragraph. It doesn't seem that unique in language or compelling in action to have it sit on it's own.

    The word "Hyperaware" seems out of period. And I'd change appropriate to "wise." It felt more with the MC's age.

    Best to you,


  16. Thanks so much, Lois. :D

    Excellent suggestions. Thank you. I really like the idea of changing appropriate to wise. Saying it out loud, it does seem to fit nicely.

  17. Okay, and I'm back just to add that like Cheryl was going for, I assumed a wet clearing of the throat was the phlegmy sound you make when you've got a cold, or you're just old. Now I really will shut up!

  18. Great blog!!!!! Love it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Lola x

  19. There's an award for you on my blog!

  20. Not bothered about too many adjectives, would have liked a little more description re the setting, to know where I was.

  21. Great critique Carol - and a very interesting excerpt! I'd read more!

  22. I actually really like this piece. It has a nice rhythm like you say, and honestly I didn't pick out anything after I first read it. I do see the too many adjectives now that you mention it, so it prolly could be pared down just a tad. But it wouldn't keep me from reading on in this case. I was hooked.

  23. I really liked the build-up of this piece. You could definitely feel that something bad was about to happen/be revealed.

    This piece stopped me: "many great-granddaughter of Alexandrina..." Is that how it's written?

  24. Thanks so much for all the great comments. :D

    You've all given amazing feedback to help polish up this excerpt. I will keep all this in my mind while I continue with revisions.

    Liz, I wasn't sure how to write that. "many great-granddaughter..." Alexandrina will be important later on, so this is a bit of foreshadowing. If anyone has a suggestion, I'm definitely open to hearing them. :D

    Thanks again to all the fabulous commenters, and a ginormous thanks to you, Carol, for your time, feedback, and the opportunity to have my piece posted on your blog. You rock my socks, girl! *hugs*


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