Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Page Critique: SAMSARA

This is an excerpt sent to me for critique, from a YA fantasy/alternate history by Ronnisha Lewis. Please add your additional comments and thoughts below!

Part I: Samsara

Another village is before me. I tuck a loose strand of hair neatly behind my left ear and tie a rope around my waist, in order to strap a basket full of clothes to my back. My toe curls into the land with the thought of freedom. Moisture from the night lingers upon me like a wet rain. I am alone. Tears flow like streams that leak out of me. I never knew being poised for a new life could hurt so much. I embark on a journey that only I know. A journey far away from home. My mouth holds an unspoken dream or lie it seems. My life moves upon a gossamer thread that binds me to my slow, muffled heart. In spite of pain, I breathe. I am the stuff of legend. The stuff of memory. And somehow it seems that my only enemy is time.

My heart pounds like a drum. My feet slow, before they quicken to a strong rhythm of urgency. I am free. I am free and yet I don’t want my will to crumble. I want to move. I want to continue to run as fast as I can until there is a place I can no longer be found. I am crackling energy. Still, I move with stumbling feet as if they have never known the earth. There is a fire in the hearth of my heart. My stomach knots like butterflies have made a nest inside of me. Pain has made a mess inside of me.

I tell myself I can go on even though my knees are bruised and weak, but something says to me that I must stay strong in spirit; it says that soon it will be dawn, but I must hide under the night sky like a fugitive.

Character versus Plot
As a reader, I got a good sense of the character's emotions, but I was wanting to know more about the plot. I'm wondering if some action can be integrated for a better balance. Storywise, I'm not sure what's going on beyond the main character's pain/inner turmoil, that she's a refuge, and she has a basket on her back.

Consistency and Clarity
1. Is it night or day? Initially it says "moisture from the night lingers" and the village seems to be visible/before her, which led me to believe it was already early morning. But the end line says soon it will be dawn and she must travel like a fugitive in the night. I found this confusing.
2. No true contrast? In the last line says she tells herself she can go on, which is contrasted by a "but" to say that she must stay strong in the spirit. These two things don't seem truly contrary to each other; perhaps "but" shouldn't be used? (And there are also two "buts" in this quite lengthy sentence; are both needed?)

There are a lot of figures of speech in this short excerpt. It might be good to reduce the number and/or strengthen some. Also, I noticed two descriptions about the MC's heart; perhaps omit one? Here are just the similes:

1. Moisture from the night lingers upon me like a wet rain. Is the adjective "wet" really needed? Rain is always wet. To me, this would sound fine without the comparison--the moisture could linger, but omit "like a wet rain."
2. Tears flow like streams that leak out of me. This seems to be circular or unclear, and "flow like streams" is fairly cliché. Is the phrase "that leak out of me" really needed? Maybe it could even be phrased: My tears flow like streams, or more concise: My tears stream from me.
3. My heart pounds like a drum. This is pretty cliché; can it be made more unique?
4. My stomach knots like butterflies have made a nest inside of me. Pain has made a mess inside of me. Both say "inside of me," which feels repetitive. Omit or change one?

The first line is fairly hooky/catchy--"another" village means there's been a village in the past that the MC has left. That piques curiosity about why, and what's going on. There is a lot of raw emotion and lyricism in this piece. My favorite line: I am crackling energy.

Do you have any helpful feedback to add to this critique?
Have you ever written alternative history fiction; are you familiar with the genre?
Do YOU have a 250-word excerpt to send me for a free public critique?? If so, send to artzicarol [at] gmail [dot] com. It can be anonymous if you wish.


  1. I think your whole crit is spot on. You picked out all the things I would've said plus some. And I would definitely intersperse emotion/inner turmoil with action to move things along.

  2. Comments as I was reading:
    'My toe curls into the land with the thought of freedom' makes it sound like her toe is thinking. 'I curl my toe' would make this read more clearly.

    Rain is always wet, so cut the unnecessary adjective.

    The simile 'tears flow like streams' comes pretty soon after 'moisture... lingers upon me like a wet rain'. By the time you get to 'my heart pounds like a drum' there's been two similes and two metaphors in one paragraph: the prose is getting a little bit flowery.

    I like how the pace picks up as she begins to run with the short, sharp sentences: I am free etc. I love the original metaphors in this paragraph (crackling energy, fire in the hearth of my heart).

    The stomach knots like butterflies have made a nest in it is confusing: a nest of butterflies doesn't CAUSE knots, which is what this reads like. I think in trying to make the cliche of butterflies in the stomach feel fresh, you've just muddied the waters. I'd suggest you keep the original metaphors and ditch the butterflies.

    Agreed with mshatch that some more action interspersed with the inner turmoil, and some of the more cliche phrases replaced with your own or cut out, would really take this excerpt up a notch!

  3. Your suggestions are pretty right on the money, Carol. I did have one suggestion to add - "My stomach knots like butterflies have made a nest inside of me. Pain has made a mess inside of me."

    When I think of butterflies nesting, I think of something soft and tickles - not pain.

  4. I've never heard of this genre before. Interesting! Your crits are always spot on! :)

  5. I thoroughly appreciate the critiques and comments. I definitely needed the tip about more action and a way to refine the prose. Thank you. (R. Lewis)

  6. I, too, agree with your first point Carol - about needing more about the plot. It felt like way too much internal dialogue for me. However, I've never written much in first person, so I'm definitely no expert!

  7. I agree with the critique as well. This is beautiful writing that could be revised slightly to become even more beautiful and accessible to the reader! Best of luck with this manuscript!

  8. Great crit. I havent read or written in this genre.

  9. Carol, you have an excellent critical eye! I think your points about this piece were all spot on. I liked the excerpt for its energy and immediacy--all strong suits. But with your notes, it could be better still.

  10. Love how detailed your critique is! Lots of great stuff, glad you shared it! :)

  11. I agree with all you said here, Carol. I'm a cut-to-the-chase reader, so I was really bogged down by this beginning - I wanted more story! The writing is lovely at times, but I'd also suggest that she not try to overwhelm us on the first page with the figures of speech, metaphors, etc.

    I worry that we tend to do this because we deal with *first page* or *first 10 page* critiques or submission policies and feel we need to show our stuff while we have those brief few moments of attention.

  12. I also wanted to know more about the plot. I'm not too familiar with this genre, but there are some things I read awhile back that seems to fit it.

    Great critique, Carol.

  13. I got a good feeling of ambiance and mood from this, which was very nice! Carol, I like your crits. I think the metaphors need to be done a little more carefully, as you suggested.

  14. Although I like the imagery of the first paragraph, I was more intrigued by the second and think you should start there and intermingle parts of the first paragraph later on.

  15. Well, with this story I considered adding an interesting action scene in the middle while taking all comments about wording and the use of metaphors in mind. I really love everyone's feedback and input. Thank you again and again. (R.Lewis)

  16. I like the overall tone of the piece; as for the rest, I think you got everything else that came to mind while I was reading.

    I've never tried alternative history fiction, though I do enjoy reading books in the genre.

  17. The writing is absolutely beautiful! And that first line is great. I'd suggest cutting some of the language though, and get to the action a bit quicker. But well done!

  18. I love the title - very evocative. I agree with Carol's crit and the comments above. Sorry I don't have more to add. Beautiful writing, but it's too easy to get lost in that without knowing what's happening.

  19. My biggest thought was that there were too many comparisons, like you said. It slowed it down for me a bit too much. Also, more action would definitely grab my interest more.

    Great excerpt and critique!

  20. I agree! This had a nice, poetic quality to it, but was a little heavy on details for an opening. Like you said, Carol, a little more plot, a little more flow. Get us into the story. I am intrigued, and I think the writing is lovely. Great job!

  21. I don't have much to add to your wonderful critique and the great comments. I especially agree that trimming some of the comparisons would benefit the excerpt. And cliches always grate on the ears. Replacing them is never a bad idea.


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