Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Page Critique: YA paranormal romance


Today's excerpt for critique is from Theresa Crocker's YA paranormal romance, the last in my current queue. Please add your feedback below!

THE EXCERPT
Chapter 1: Dreams
It 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…

MY CRITIQUE
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.

Kudos
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.

YOUR TURN
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?

24 comments:

  1. Excellent critique, as always, Carol. I love reading these. And Theresa's excerpt is steeped in tension and intrigue, which can be tough to pull off. I should admit, though, that I didn't pick up on this being a dream. I did wonder why the protagonist kept trying to remember who and why and feelings. And the scene being a dream explains this. I'd have to read more before I could decide if I thought this initial dream scene worked, but this excerpt had my attention.

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    Replies
    1. Well, the chapter was entitled Dreams--and it sounded like a dream to me--so I made that assumption. Maybe that's not the case! ;o)

      Delete
  2. Hmm...I do get a great sense of emotion, even if it manifests as being a little melodramatic.

    You take the "straight-to-the-action" route. Although many people recommend against it, it can work in your favor.

    As Carol said, the Wall of Text should be broken up. You also make another mistake that I've seen other writers make: sloppy run-ons. You string them together with commas and ellipses, with a lot of run-ons in succession.

    One run-on can have lots of impact. A lot of them create something akin to a rickety straw house bound by twine.

    So, I would first break this into paragraphs, and then work on sentence structure. Once it looks neater, you can continue editing it.

    I can see this having a visceral tone down the line--so keep writing!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I do know that I need to break up the paragraph!
      And i know i need to edit the sentence structure a lot!

      Thanks

      Delete
  3. I agree with everything Carol has said. I think shortening up some of those sentences could help make this scene more intense.

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  4. Thank you Carol for this critique! I will take this all to heart! And thank you to all the comments and feedback of your other blogging friends!
    -Theresa

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  5. I see a lot of potential here, with revisions along the lines Carol suggests. I also think stronger verbs would kick up the style and tension. For example instead of "his face was before me," "his face loomed before me." Little things like that, more evocative language, can reduce the need for exclamation points.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you! I was also recently advised to use more "active verbs" instead of passive verbs!
      -Theresa

      Delete
  6. Great crit Carol, yes I agree drop the !!
    I loved the opening .

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  7. Carol - I am also benefitting from having you point out places where your guest writers can improve their texts. Theresa's paranormal romance definitely rings true as YA - hat's off to her!

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    Replies
    1. Wow! Thank you! I have been recently wondering if I should make this more an adult novel, as opposed to a YA novel.

      Delete
  8. The first thing that stuck out to me was the large paragraph block. It's so true that things like that make me want to skim. And I try to take out every exclamation point, because I think they're telling, instead of dropping the reader into the story and letting them add their own drama.

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  9. Another great critique, Carol.
    While there's plenty of great tension in the scene, and fab description, I agree that it's a big risk these days to open with a dream sequence.

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    Replies
    1. Before this critique, I had never heard there was any risk in opening with a dream sequence. So this is definitely a lesson for me!

      Delete
  10. Great critique, Carol.

    Here are my thoughts...

    The title of the chapter (Dreams) took me out of the story...it made me think oh...it's going to be a dream. I would have rather found out that it was a dream on my own.

    I think you need to break up the paragraph some. It feels rushed. Let the reader enjoy the action in the dream.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you!
      You are the first to mention the title of the Chapter.
      I appreciate your advice

      Delete
  11. The double exclamation marks instantly made me wary. The second pair immediately following compounded that. If the sentence is exciting enough on its own, it shouldn't necessarily need one, let alone two. There's overuse of ellipses toward the end of the paragraph too. I feel like the author is relying too heavily on punctuation to convey drama, so it comes across as melodramatic instead. Don't be afraid to let the words stand on their own.

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  12. I like the picture above the excerpt.

    The page grabbed my attention and you gave an excellent critique, Carol.

    I agree that there are too many ellipses in one paragraph. I also agree with your critique of the first line.

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  13. I know I haven't commented before, but I just found this great blog through Dawn's post here: http://dawnall.wordpress.com/2012/05/25/kreativ-blogger-award/#comments

    This morning I just read Mary Kole's blog and she has a post on dreams here:
    http://kidlit.com/2012/05/30/and-it-was-all-a-dream/

    Carol I love your blog. Maybe one of these days I'll have the nerve to send a bit from my wip. The writers here are a brave bunch.

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  14. Nice crit! I think the description is great, and starting with a "was" sentence slows everything down. "To be" verbs are too passive . . .it's something I have to work on all the time.

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    Replies
    1. I know! That is something I SERIOUSLY need to work on!

      Thanks

      Delete
  15. Great feedback, Carol. The exclamation points really tripped me up (I think there was a Seinfeld episode about exclamation point use...). I also found it odd that the runner had to pause to remember why they were running...

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  16. Great critique, as always.

    I thought this could be separated into paragraphs and have some of those ellipses removed. It looks like a chunk when it could be a smoother read.

    ReplyDelete

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