Today's excerpt for critique is from Theresa Crocker's YA paranormal romance, the last in my current queue. Please add your feedback below!
Chapter 1: DreamsIt was so dark and cold!! I was running somewhere, though I had no idea where, through a dense thick of clouds!! “Fog” I quickly told myself. Completely out of breath, I had to stop to steady my breathing before I collapsed. As I came to a stop I tried to remember why I was running in the first place, or who I was running from…Instantly his face was before me, a huge man, if he could even be described as a man, dark, almost black hair, shaggy, hanging around his face, a hard jaw, and cruel black eyes. He was dressed, from head to toe in deep black, as if any light around him would incinerate his whole being. His eyes were the most terrifying of all his features, like they were trying to tear me apart from the inside… that’s when I remembered the feeling… the burning sensation that ran throughout my entire body the moment his eyes captured mine! I shuddered at the remembered thought and I started running again, as fast as my legs would move beneath me. Though I could not see where I was going, I knew anywhere was better than behind me… where he was. Sweat dripped down my entire body, grouping mainly in my upper back and chest… I couldn’t breathe again. I was lost… terrified… and I could hear him getting closer. Smell that awful stench that surrounded him. The smell almost of sulfur, or burning, or… death! I wanted to scream, scream for someone to help me… scream for anyone, but my throat was too parched for any noise to manifest out of my mouth…
1. First Impressions. As I mentioned last week, big blocks of paragraphs at the beginning of a book is less inviting to read, and white space is your friend. No more than you'd want a massive piece of furniture next to your front door, you don't want to block your readers in any way to welcome them into your written world.
2. The first line. This isn't as gripping as it could be. For one thing, "was" is weak, and sounds distant. Can the cold and darkness be described rather than Telling the reader it's dark and cold? Let the character--and thus the reader--feel those sensations. And since fog is white, I wasn't sure how that fit in with the darkness.
3. Starting with a dream. A dream sequence is generally not done because it is cliché. While it can be a gripping way to open, it's been done so much agents and editors are weary of it. Can we see a few (intriguing) paragraphs or pages introducing the character before she falls asleep and dreams?
4. Double exclamation marks. Use only one form of punctuation at the end of any sentence. Also, exclamations can easily create melodrama; for example: the burning sensation that ran throughout my entire body the moment his eyes captured mine! It's better to elicit drama/tension by wording rather than punctuation--the words themselves are enough, here.
5. Too many ellipses. Any punctuation or formatting is quickly overdone--whether exclamation marks, dashes, caps, italics, or ellipses. The ellipses in this scene might be great places to cut to new paragraphs. Some sentences could even be single lines for emphasis.
6. Telling adverbs. Right off, there are three adverbs (which usually tell instead of show): quickly, completely, instantly. The latter especially is a "forced pacing word" that could be omitted by rephrasing. It's best to use adverbs sparingly, and spread them out.
7. Creating Tension. To me it dilutes the effect that the pursuer is described as a memory rather than having the character look back in real time and SEE him pursuing her. Also, breaking this excerpt into more paragraphs may help intensify the tension, as the reader's eyes leap from sentence to sentence and down the page. It can feel more breathless if it looks more breathless.
I really like the description of the pursuer, with the shaggy hair and penetrating eyes. Nicely creepy. The panic comes through as the main character is running and sweating and feeling thirsty. While the tension could be tweaked and amped more, there is inherent tension. It is appropriately paranormal in tone.
What can you add to this feedback? Do you mind that it starts with a dream?
Do you think having the pursuer described as a memory dilutes the tension, or not?
This excerpt sounds like something from a bad dream--have you ever had one like this?