Today, we are critiquing live on the blog! Well, almost live. Actually not live at all. So that doesn't really work, but not to worry. What we do have for you is a critique of the first 250 words of a manuscript sent to us with permission from the author and posted here completely anonymous.
Editor's comments are in bold, italics, and underlined - just to be sure! Here we go...
Early morning mist danced with smoke from fires and battle. Does battle cause smoke? Could you use a different noun to portray the aftermath of battle? Perhaps: ...danced with smoke from the fires to the disharmonic sounds of battle. Death and rubble met my eyes at every point. Could you be more specific and focus on a certain dead person on the ground, how the blood stains his clothes, or his eyes screaming in pain, or his head in a ditch while his body lay across the field? And then, how does our narrator respond to this? Does her stomach clench, or is she numb to the killing? These extra details will offer the reader an immediate connection with the narrating character as well as clearer imagery of the scene. Gray skies hovered low across the crisp winter fields and refused to allow any light to shine on the consequences of greed and deceit that littered the land. The vastness of the devastation made it difficult to believe that this was what victory had earned us. These two sentences are vivid and strong, but perhaps by including the character's reactions, the scene would become stronger.
This opening paragraph is a haunting scene, but perhaps it would be stronger if inner monologue, visceral reactions, and more vivid descriptions were added.
“Malory.” Isobel placed a hand on my arm. The gentle, but insistent, pressure of my new Not sure 'NEW' is necessary here. This info could be blended in more subtly later friend’s touch chased away the paralysis that had overcome me. Perhaps instead of 'overcome me' a stronger verb, such as 'flooded over me' or 'overwhelmed me' or similar might offer more impact.
“Look at them all–,” Pinpoint crystals of ice hung like a veil in the air and stung at my cheeks. Tears warmed a path down my face as I surveyed the bodies on the ground. “—at what they’ve done.” The punctuation here is incorrect, since she’s not doing something to interrupt her own speech. Ellipses would be better: “Look at them all …” Pinpoint crystals of ice hung like a veil in the air and stung at my cheeks. Tears warmed a path down my face as I surveyed the bodies on the ground. “… at what they’ve done.” Otherwise, if adding a character action that breaks the dialogue, em-dashes used outside of the quote marks would be used: “Look at them all”—I swept my arms out in front of me and moved slowly in a circle, tears warming a path down my face—“and at what they’ve done.”
I forced my eyes to embrace every image. I wouldn’t turn away despite the horror that churned within me and threatened to spill out at any moment. Suggest adding vivid details here so the reader can see exactly what she sees. Otherwise, it’s a little telling. This burden was as much mine to bear, as my family’s and the traitors who’d aligned with them. Since the second part of the sentence is a phrase not a full sentence, the comma isn’t needed.
Among the stilled bodies—knights, as well as villagers—men writhed on the ground in the final throes of their march toward death. Life spilled from their wounds in gruesome clarity. A chasm ripped open in me as Perhaps it would be stronger here to just tell us what she sees and not pull the reader back from the scene a man tried desperately to force his own life back into his abdomen, his eyes begging me to assist him before realization settled over him. Perhaps this would have better impact with more vivid descriptions. Gross the reader out. Make us cringe with the MC. For example: A chasm ripped open in me as a man grabbed his entrails from the ground and desperately tried to force them back into his abdomen, his eyes begging me for assistance before realization settled over him. - What did he do then? How did realization settle over him? Did he cry? Scream? Wail? Say a prayer? Suggest adding his reaction to make it stronger.
My life would never see the end of this battle. Suggest revising for smoother flow. Perhaps: “I would never see the end of this battle” - and add voice to this. Example: With God as my witness, I would never see the end of this battle.
So, what do you think? Do you agree with our comments? Would you suggest anything different? Has this been helpful?
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