Wednesday, March 30, 2011

PAGE CRITIQUE: Traitor of Somaleris

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

THE EXCERPT
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?

Snap.

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.


MY CRITIQUE
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.

YOUR TURN
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?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

MG Makeover: In the Lake

Here is a hypothetical beginning for a Middle Grade novel that I'll use for a Before and After makeover example.

EXCERPT

Summer was nearly over. Only a week until Labor Day weekend, and then it would all end for Ron. His parents would arrive from the city to fetch him, and his grandparents would wave farewell and invite him back for next summer. Soon, it'd be back to school for him. He'd miss walking by the lake and going on long bike rides. He'd miss picking vegetables in the garden with Gram. He'd miss fishing with Gramps in the rowboat.

Most of all, he hadn't figured out what that large dark thing was that swam in the lake. He'd seen it eight times now. He didn't know whether it was a thick snake, a sea monster of some kind, or just a really big fish.

Ron whistled for Old Jake, Gramps' golden retriever, and ran off toward the lake. His bare feet were tough by this time, calloused from a summer's worth of running free. He spotted the dock and dashed down its boards. Old Jake followed, long tongue hanging out sideways.

CRITIQUE
The story isn't bad, but it could be stronger. For one thing, it starts off with a weak "was" verb featured in a pretty bland sentence. The first paragraph is distant, as though the narrator is talking about Ron rather than seeing or feeling the scene through Ron's eyes. The paragraphs could use some voice, some pizzaz added to make them more lively and less ordinary. More middle grade. This can be accomplished by using zestier verbs, adding details, describing sensory things (sounds, smells, etc.), and using imagery or figures of speech.

MAKEOVER

Ron flipped the calendar page to September and blasted out a sigh. One week left until Labor Day weekend, when his parents would arrive from the city to fetch him. Sure, Gram and Gramps would invite him back next summer, but soon he'd be back at school. No more puttering around collecting rocks. No more sweaty bike rides on the trails. No more picking carrots and zucchini and tomatoes in the garden with Gram. He'd have to leave the rest of those fat silvery trout for Gramps to catch.

Most of all, he still hadn't figured out what that large dark thing was that swam in the lake. He'd seen it eight times now, churning up to the surface like a black slug in a stewpot. Was it a giant snake? Some sort of sea monster? Or just a really big fish?

With a rattley clang of the screen door, Ron left the house. He whistled for Old Jake, Gramps' golden retriever, and ran off toward the lake. The grasses hissed under the toughened soles of his bare feet and the wind whipped a strange blend of honeysuckle and pine-needle smells into his nose. At the dock he thumped down the boards. Old Jake followed, long tongue hanging out sideways like a slobbery red rope.


***********

Note: For the makeover I added about 45 words.

YOUR TURN
Can you think of anything else that would make this excerpt stronger?
Does the makeover seem less distant to you than the original, & more like a MG voice?
Have you ever written middle grade fiction, for readers ages 8-12?

Do you have a MG or YA page excerpt for use as a guinea-pig post on this blog, to help other writers hone their work? Perhaps an old shelved novel or other work?
It can be anonymous or labeled with your name, as you wish.
Email me if you do: artzicarol [at] gmail [dot] com

Friday, March 18, 2011

Entry: Crusade Challenge #2

As part of the Crusader blogfest, our second challenge is to create a flash fiction piece in 100 words or less, beginning with the words: "The goldfish bowl teetered…." Since I love the genre of fantasy, I will make this a fantasy snippet.


The Test

The goldfish bowl teetered, suspended above the boy's head. The Headmage directed Kayra to begin.

The bowl tipped. Power swirled from Kayra's fingertips, but deflected only part of the water trickling upon the boy.

Curses. Not a good day to have sluggish control of her magick.

The water grew cloudy. The goldfish paled to gray, fangs erupting. Kayra's magick sputtered. What the--

The boy cried out as rotwater singed his scalp. Fleshfish snapped near the bowl's rim. Kayra's magick blazed forth, sending the bowl and its contents into crackling oblivion.

Smoke tendrils drifted. Kayra slumped.

"Pass," said the Headmage.



***********

I don't think I've ever written anything this short! I initially wrote it at 150 words and had to pare it down by one-third. What a great challenge, to make something with a beginning, middle, and end in only 100 words! I'm a novelist at heart, and prefer to be more verbose. However, it's great to know how to economize your words no matter what you write.

YOUR TURN:
Have you ever written any flash fiction?
Aside from 1-sentence or 1-paragraph pitches and the like, what is the shortest piece you've ever written?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Blog Award Catch-Up

Bad me! I've been accumulating blog awards while my nose has been to the proverbial grindstone, finishing my WIP. I no longer have that excuse because my rough draft is done. Hence I will play catch up, thank the people who've bestowed awards upon me in the past couple of months, and pass them on to deserving bloggers.

I've received the following awards. Click to visit:
1. & 2. Making Smiles on Faces Award (2 of 'em)
Alexia Chamberlynn @ The Life and Literary Pursuits of Alexia Chamberlynn
Maria McKenzie @ Reading, Writing, Romance
3. & 4. Stylish Blogger Award (2 of 'em)
Rosie Connolly @ East for Green Eyes
Dawn Allen @ Write On
5. Friends for the Journey Award [originated at Beautiful Chaos; click to visit]
Lynda Young @ W.I.P. It: A Writer's Journey
[500-follower giveaway going on now!]
6. Write Hard Inspirational Award [with Pass the Love Badge; see sidebar]
Becky Miller @ The Rainy Day Wanderer
7. Best Blog Award
Nicole Zoltack @ Where Fantasy and Love Take Flight

RULES:
Post the award(s), pass 'em on to 7 lucky buddy bloggers, visit/inform those lucky buddy bloggers, and list 7 things about myself.

I'm passing awards on to:
1. Christine Tyler @ The Writer Coaster
[Be sure to read her March 9th post about blogs!]
2. Sarah Ketley @ The Precocious Scribe
3. Talei Loto @ Musings of An Aspiring Scribe
4. Susan Mills @ A Walk in My Shoes
5. Patti Nielson @ Patti Nielson
6. Abby Minard @ Above Water
7. Jennie Bailey @ Garden Full of Lily

Awardees' choice--pick one you adore & don't have yet (I'm easy/lazy).

Seven Brief Things About Me
I've written in five genres of YA: light fantasy, contemporary, light science fiction, post-apocalyptic/dystopian, and magical realism. Two other areas I've written: picture books and magazine-length children's stories. Toss in a few Highlights rebuses for extra flavor.

YOUR TURN: blog awards
Do you enjoy giving/receiving blog awards, or do you find they are too much work?
Are you a person who designs new awards to spread even more joy and appreciation?
Do you have a separate tab or page to post your awards? (pretty soon I may have to!)
Do you ever alter the blog award "rules" to suit your preference or schedule?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Page Critique: COUNTLESS

I'll try again with my new Twitter link. Click to find me: http://twitter.com/artzicarol

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?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

YA is Not a Genre

Announcement #1:
I've succumbed to Twitter! Follow me and I'll follow you back. Look for me as Artzicarol.

Announcement #2: 200-FOLLOWER GIVEAWAY WINNERS
Congrats to the following 3 winners chosen courtesy of random.org!! Yay!

Donea Lee, Kimberly, and Lois D. Brown (click to visit their websites)

Winners, email me at artzicarol [at] gmail [dot] com to arrange to receive a manuscript critique or a copy of Junction 2020. If a critique, send one chapter (or entire manuscript if a picture book).

********

GENRE: WHAT IT IS NOT
I've heard writers say their writing genre is young adult , or YA. This isn't technically correct. YA is a CATEGORY rather than a genre. This is important to know, because you will need to state your category as well as your genre when you query agents and editors.

The following are categories or classifications of writing:
Young adult, middle grade, picture book, adult fiction, graphic novels, non-fiction, biography, memoir, poetry, new adult (college-age characters and situations), etc.

GENRE: WHAT IT IS
Once you choose which category to write in, you can select what you like to write within that category. For instance, you choose to write YA. But what kind of YA do you want to write? Horror? Paranormal? Fantasy? Those are genres.

GENRE LIST
Here is an alphabetical list of genres with brief descriptions; these usually refer to novels or short stories. This list is probably not comprehensive. There can also be blends or sublevels of these genres, such as Historical Romance or Paranormal Horror.

Chick Lit: romantic comedy; searching for the perfect man, shoes, and clothing
Christian fiction: exploring Christian themes and/or with a Christian world view
Contemporary: stories set in present times; often "issue" books (anorexia, suicide)
Cozy Mystery: with less blood, violence, & sex; often with elderly/animal detectives
Cyberpunk: science fiction or advanced science with a low-life/underground society
Dystopian: bleak, oppressive utopias gone bad (often combined with post-apocalyptic)
Fantasy: can be light or high; generally involves magic & often set in a different world
Historical: set in times past; even if set twenty years ago it can be considered historical
Horror: containing scary, bloody elements that make people scream and shiver
Magical Realism: contemporary stories with a twist or hint of magic; often romantic
Mystery: the traditional "whodunit," involving clues and problems/crimes to solve
Paranormal: a human world involving supernatural creatures, abilities, or powers
Paranormal Romance: romance (often sensual/erotic) involving supernatural creatures
Post-Apocalyptic: dealing with life after some cataclysmic, world-altering event
Romance: involving characters who meet and fall in love; often formulaic in plot
Science Fantasy: a blend of science fiction & fantasy elements; magic may be involved
Science Fiction: based on science/hypothetical scientific developments, like space travel
Steampunk: advanced technology meshed with steam power & Victorian-like settings
Thriller: fast-paced mystery/crime novel involving major-league adventure/danger
True Crime: non-fiction mystery that is actually true; fast-paced and reads like fiction
Urban Fantasy: fantasy (involving magic, fairies, etc.) set in a very human-type city
Urban Fiction: no fantasy elements, set in a city, usually w/ violence, gangs, drugs, sex
Women's Fiction: stories about women (middle to upper class) & their relationships

Click HERE for info on intriguing CyberPunk derivatives such as: Atompunk, Clockpunk, Dieselpunk, PostCyberpunk, BioPunk, NanoPunk, Elfpunk, Mythpunk, Nowpunk, Splatterpunk.

YOUR TURN
What CATEGORY or classification do you write in? (YA, MG, adult fiction, poetry, etc.)
What GENRE is your favorite, that you write the most?
Can you think of any other genres to add to this list?