Wednesday, July 25, 2012


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?


  1. Prologues are a strange thing. If done well, I like them. I think they are important to many stories.

    1. Oh yeah, I've been very fatigued recently. I keep saying it's the excessive heat here, but I did make a doctor appointment to see if it's anything more. You have reason to be fatigued. Just the stress of a move will tire you for months...

  2. I like prologues - but I have heard that many editors, agents, and publishers do not. The idea is that the prologue is sometimes skipped by the reader, or that the author's novel is not as engaging as the prologue. BTW - I loved Kelly's! Great critique, Carol.

  3. Great critique. Personally, I don't mind prologues--though if they're executed badly it can negatively affect the story long past the first chapter. I think this one is good; I like the mix of tension/action while also letting the reader connect with Mairi.

  4. I love Prologues and I'm pleased to be writing for a publisher now who uses them a lot. A lot of friends tell me they never read them. Good critique. I agree that the passage isn't clear enough at times and white space definitely needed.
    I usually try to only blog once a week (I'd rather pace my blogging rather than take those pesky blog breaks), unless something comes up like it did this week - I've just posted a follow up to Roni Loren's getting sued for using images on blogs.


  5. Hi, Carol,

    Nice critique. You picked up everything that I saw. The tension worked well, but as you had said some parts are fuzzy and unclear.

    As for blogging. I used to be a fiend about it. Now, well, with months out of town working, I haven't had the chance to blog as much as I would have otherwise.

    Now Im back home and hope to have a posting schedule of at least three times a week. I plan to enter the blogosphere daily for a few hours just to catch up with all of my wonderful blogger friends.

    How are things with you? How goes your book? Has it been sold yet?


  6. Thank you so much for posting this. I really appreciate it.

    I've since rewritten this since I submitted it to you, to make it much clearer. ( I hope anyway )

    I too, love prologues (obviously) and in this piece I felt I needed one.

  7. Great critique, as always. I don't think I can add anything else to what's already been said. I did enjoy the excerpt.

    I don't mind prologues. They have a place. It just depends on how they are used. I think i have a bigger issue with prologues that have been disguised under a 'chapter 1' label.

  8. The fact that it was a prologue made me wary; we've all heard the advice that you should jump in and start the story. Without knowing anything about the book, it's hard to know how relevant the prologue is, but I do think fantasy is slightly more accepting of prologues than other genres, so I'm trusting there's good reason for it.

    Other than that, the present participial phrase in the last sentence doesn't work: a PPP describes simultaneous actions, but the man can't leap and stride at the same time. Changing it so the actions are seperated more could be as simple as starting the sentence with the word after.

  9. Great to see you back here again, Carol!

    I hear you. To be honest, I am a bit fatigued! I'm trying to take it easy on the blog front this summer to get my mojo back.

  10. Great critique, Carol and since Kelly has already revised the draft, I don't have anything to add. But I was wondering about the word "kitchens."

  11. I was a bit confused about the age of the audience, too. Great critique, Carol!

  12. I agree with your critique.

    And I have no problem with prologues if they are necessary to the story. It's hard to tell if this one works without knowing the rest. :)

  13. I was immediately pulled into this scene, so I didn't pay much attention to the writing style itself. I could feel the anxiety of the MC as she huddled and protected the children. I know a lot of agents frown upon prologues, but I do read them. And this one is very interesting and makes me want to read more of the story. :)

    1. Oh, yeah. I try to blog at least once a week...with no promises. :)

  14. I agree with your critique. I wasn't clear on the age of the main character, but it was apparent that she was old enough to be a mother.

    I try to blog every day. Sometimes it gets a little tough though, when I'm trying to meet writing deadlines.

  15. I'd get rid of the word Mostly, which starts this excerpt off. I think it feels more immediate without it. Otherwise I pretty much agree with your crit although I did get that they were in a cellar of some sort and looking up through the spaces between the floor boards. Reminded me of Willow when Val Kilmer is looking up at his wife who plays Sorcha. But it might be confusing if you don;t have a reference like I did. For sure I'd be reading on to find out what happened.

  16. You're still an amazing editor. I found myself immersed in the prologue and didn't spot half of the points you made. Great critique.
    Hope all is well with you and your family. How are you enjoying CA.

  17. I did a word search of all words ending with "ly." I removed most and found I was not losing anything. In fact, the story read better.

  18. Great critique, Carol. I was interested in this scenario, and would keep reading!

  19. Good critique. This prologue was inriguing and I hope I get to read the book someday soon.

    As for blogging - I was feeling weary a month or so ago, and now I'm back to feeling more excited. I feel like I have too many ideas for posts . . .which is good, I think.

  20. I agree with all the points you make. Great critique.

    I blog Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. It can be exhausting. I'm sure at some point in my life I'll cut back.

    I don't mind prologues. Some of them add a lot of spice to the beginning of a book. They have their place, but they don't work for all stories.

  21. I don't have anything to add. You covered everything I could think of and more.
    Hope you get refreshed by blogging a little less. I know my writing has been more balance since cutting back on my blog posts. Xx


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