Announcement: Due to continued busy-ness in my life as well as an admitted fit of blogging fatigue, after this I will be posting ONLY on the 1st and 3rd WEDNESDAYS of each month. I hope to connect with you all still, throughout the month.
Today's excerpt for critique is from Kelly Walker's YA fantasy novel, Cornerstone. Please add your helpful feedback below. Currently my critique queue is empty! So send your 250-word excerpts to artzicarol [at] gmail [dot] com if you'd like a critique. Paste it into the email; no attachments please.
Mostly she didn't want to see. But she couldn't help looking through the worn floorboards above her. The older children often came under here to play hide and seek and other childish games. But they weren't playing now. Crouched in the small space below the kitchens, Mairi held the children tightly in the folds of her dress. “Quiet” she mouthed at them. Silently, she prayed they would understand. She tried to cover their faces, to bury them in her dirty linen apron so they wouldn't see their mother above. If she was right, no child should see this. Her own daughter clung tightly to her side.
Desperate words came from above. “No, please... No!” The last word came out as a strangled scream. Trembling, the children stayed quiet.
There were two men upstairs. Men who clearly didn't belong here. They had ridden over the hill with the morning sun. Two small dots moving purposefully closer, closer still. As soon as her mistress had seen them coming, a stillness had come over her. She didn't know how, but Mairi thought it was almost as if she had known why they came. As they closed the distance to the house, Mairi could see they were dressed all in brown, with heavy cloaks hanging loose around their shoulders. Their clothes wore the dust of many days travel. Their faces set, steeled against the task before them. Deftly leaping off his horse, the taller of the men strode toward her.
1. First Impressions. Since this is YA, I expected the main character to be a teen. As I read, I reminded myself this was a Prologue, so the age of the character could be younger or older than that. I tried to pin the age down. The third sentence says "older children," and I thought that might mean older than the MC. So I thought perhaps she was very young, a flashback or memory from the rest of the novel. Yet when the children huddled in her dress folds, she sounded older/teen-like, and finally with the last sentence in the first paragraph, I realized she was old enough to have a child.
2. Clarity. Some parts were puzzling or not quite clear to me. I got snagged on the second sentence, wondering how she could see through the worn floorboards. Worn, to me, indicates wear and tear, not something transparent or with spaces between. The setting was ambiguous to me; were they in a cellar or basement? Also, initially, I wondered why older children would play hide-and-seek, as opposed to younger children.
3. Telling adverbs. There are quite a few adverbs--which usually tell instead of show--in this short excerpt: mostly, tightly, silently, tightly, clearly, purposefully, deftly. It's best to use adverbs sparingly, and try to use stronger verbs in their place. Especially with "clung tightly." Clinging in itself indicates a tightness, so the adverb "tightly" isn't necessary.
4. Starting point, tense, and order of events. The action seemed to start at one point of danger, with the men already there confronting the mistress, and then the story apparently backed up to tell how the intruders got there. And since the third paragraph is written with tenses like: "Mairi could see" rather than "Mairi had seen," then I began to wonder if it really was a backflash after all. If it is indeed a backflash, I questioned whether that the best order. Could/should this Prologue begin with the men arriving rather than showing Mairi's huddling with the children?
5. Density of paragraphs. There are fairly solid blocks of paragraphs here. White space is inviting to a reader, and paragraphing can actually amp up the drama to a scene by drawing it out visually. For instance, when Mairi mouthed "Quiet," to the children, that seemed a natural place to begin a new paragraph.
6. Possessive needed. Their clothes wore the dust of many days travel. Should be days' travel, as in travel belonging to or pertaining to many days.
The way this is written, there is a very nice sense of tension and danger. I also like the protectiveness of Mairi's character, even though I know she will not be the novel's main character. I like her name, too, being a fan of more unusual names. The scene is engaging--I would like to find out what happens next, to see who these men are, why they are confronting Mairi's mistress, and the ultimate fate of Mairi and the children.
What can you add to this feedback?
What is your stand on Prologues--to use or not to use? Does this one work well here?
Would've you preferred the scene started as the men arrived, before Mairi huddled with the children--or do you think the order is fine as written?
How often do YOU blog? Are you feeling fatigued?