Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Page Critique: THE CRYSTAL SWORD
Today's excerpt for critique is a first page from Tyrean Martinson's YA fantasy novel entitled The Crystal Sword. Please add your helpful feedback below!
The antechamber to the Sword Council’s meeting room held a pleasant temperature during all seasons, but Clara’s palms were beginning to sweat with anticipation and nervousness. She swallowed, sighed, and wiped her damp hands on the sides of her hips, under the longer shirt that covered them. Thankfully, no one else could see her in the otherwise empty small room. Three couches lined the outer walls, and a small unoccupied desk stood near the door to the Masters’ Chamber. A thin braided brown rug covered a small portion of the stones in the center of the room. Tapestries with the history of the Hall of the Sword hung from three of the walls and on by the Chamber, a smaller tapestry held the triple crest of the Triune Halls: the Staff, the Sword, and the Scroll. Clara had seen them all before, and she couldn’t seem to sit on the couches. Sitting just made her want to squirm with impatience, so she stood formally at ease with her feet shoulder width apart and her hands on her hips. The meeting of the Sword Council was taking far too long.
Finally, the door opened to reveal Master Dantor, her hardest teacher and personal mentor. After six years she didn’t know why he had chosen her as one of his personal apprentices. Each Master Teacher had twelve students they mentored from the beginning of their training through their Mastery Training. Master Dantor had midnight black hair with bits of white at the temples, olive weathered skin, and dark brown eyes.
1. First impressions. This has a decent though not overly powerful first line, but the verb phrase "were beginning to sweat" is quite passive, especially in a first line. Saying "sweated" would be more direct. It may not even be necessary to say she was sweating, since in the very next line she's wiping sweaty palms on her skirt.
2. The title. There's already a book by Adrienne Martine-Barnes entitled THE CRYSTAL SWORD. But it was written in the 1980's and it's not unheard of to have two books by the same title. The best time for a title search is before you settle on one.
3. Room description. While it's nice to get a sense of the setting with the desk, rug, and tapestries, those details stopped the forward movement of the scene. If Clara's nervous, she probably would NOT be noticing these things in such detail--particularly if she "had seen them all before." The crest gives a little plot info, but on the whole, this paragraph probably isn't the best place for listing room décor. It's best to work these details in more naturally or at least tighten by cutting non-important adjectives like small, unoccupied, thin, brown, etc.
4. Character description. The action stops further as Master Dantor opens the door. Spreading out his description would help the flow; his hair or skin could be mentioned more organically as he's moving across the room or engaging in dialogue with Clara.
5. Wording and Other Picky Things.
--Unnecessary words/telling. Sitting just made her want to squirm with impatience. The last 2 words aren't necessary; squirming informs the reader nicely enough. Ditto for sweating with anticipation and nervousness.
--"Telling" background. Can it be worked in more naturally that she's been working with Master Dantor for six years, perhaps during the upcoming dialogue? Or maybe just rephrasing might help it sound less obviously informational.
--Clarity and consistency of mood. I stumbled a bit on "feet shoulder": …stood formally at ease with her feet shoulder width apart. Is the "shoulder width" part really necessary? Also, I'm not sure having her hands on her hips comes across as formal or nervous--it's usually a more challenging, confident posture.
--Paragraphs and white space. My initial thought before even reading was that the first paragraph looked blocky and thus less inviting. White space is your friend. Use it in your openings to add an inviting appearance; it's rather like the feng shui of visual space. No more than you'd want a wall or massive piece of furniture right next to your front door, you don't want to block your readers in any way to welcome them into your written world.
--Small is repeated 3 times. Small room, small desk, and a small portion of stones.
What can you add to this critique: first impressions, overall impressions, or specifics?
Do you think having one's hands on hips is a relaxed, nervous, or formal stance--or does it seem more defiant, confident, or bold to you?
Want a critique of the first 250 words of YOUR middle grade or young adult novel? Send it to me at artzicarol [at] gmail [dot] com, pasted into an email rather than an attachment, please. Include your final sentence even if it puts you a little over 250 words.