Nathan Bransford, Author


Monday, May 24, 2010

Page Critique Monday

It's Monday, which means it's time for our regular feature: WHAT IN THE WORLD HAPPENED ON LOST IT'S EVERYTHING I CAN DO TO AVOID A SPOILER RIGHT NOW MONDAYS!!! Oh. I mean Page Critique Monday. Which will occasionally be Query Critique Monday, One Sentence/One Paragraph/Two Paragraph Pitch Critique Monday, Synopsis Critique Monday, and Insert Other Kind of Monday.

A reminder of the rules (please read before posting because the first eligible comment will get the critique):

1. The first person to enter a 250 word excerpt from the beginning of their novel in the comment section will win the critique. Please also tell us the title and genre.
2. I will update the post with the excerpt, unedited, so we can all read and form our opinions.
3. I will later update the post again with the excerpt now featuring my redlines, thoughts, comments, drawrings, emoticons, and assorted other marginalia (but really only redlines, thoughts, and comments)
4. Feel free to add your own two cents, but remember the sandwich method: positive, extremely polite constructive criticism (and I mean it), positive. I've decreed you need to read and heed this creed or I'll proceed to make you bleed. Indeed.

To the island! Or whatever it was!

UPDATE #1: THE EXCERPT

Here is the page. I'll be back later with my critique.

Secrets of the Moon Fox

Fantasy/Suspence


Arriving home, Liska noticed instantly, even before she got to the door, that someone was already inside. Living alone, and being mildly anti-social, this was neither expected nor desired. Now, was whoever was inside looking for Liska or ‘Anna’?

She analyzed the place silently. There was no outward proof to back up her suspicions. The door was still shut, and apparently locked, the windows were shaded just as she had left them, but instinct, deep animal instinct warned her. Her den had been invaded. But by whom and why?

A college dorm room is not known for being overly secure. This dorm, built in the same mold of a motel, was even less so. Absolutely anyone could walk onto the campus, pick or force the sub-standard lock, and waltz in. Yes, she was on the second floor, which made random break-ins a touch less likely, but it wasn’t impossible. This didn’t feel random, though.

It could be a thief or an attacker that was focused on her or her current ‘safe’ persona. If that was the case, it would be wise to have Liska ready, even if not immediately apparent. On the other hand, it could be something logical and harmless, like the RA doing an inspection or leaving a note; or maintenance or the bug exterminator she had been warned would come by sometimes. Those would definitely be ‘Anna’ visitors. It could be a family member waiting for her; to deliver a message, or test her. Or both.

UPDATE #2: THE CRITIQUE

Thanks so much to HJHarding for offering up the page for critique. This is the third page critique in a row that begins with an interesting setup! In this case a potential burglary-in-progress or some other mysterious visitor. There's an immediate question that sucks in the reader (Who is in there?) and my curiosity was definitely piqued. It also seems like there may be some sort of dual-identity thing going on, which I'd be curious to learn more about.

That said, I'm afraid I had a few concerns, which break down into three broad categories:

1) Building suspense/interest

As mentioned, this setup has a lot of potential: someone might be in this person's home (or den... or dorm... more on that in a minute). And yet that's basically all we learn about what's actually happening. The rest of the page passes as the protagonist spends three paragraphs standing in place, idly wondering what is happening and running through a list of hypothetical possibilities.

There are no more clues even about how the protagonist knows or senses that someone is inside, so instead of learning more detail about the world or the character or the predicament, we have a character thinking, essentially: this could be dangerous or it could be harmless, who could say really?

Yes, there's surely more to come, but I wasn't sure I understood what the protagonist knew or how they knew what they knew, nor was I clear what they really felt about whatever it was they knew or suspected. If the intent is to build suspense (it may not be, but seems to be here), it's far more suspenseful if the protagonist is actually acting on their curiosity, investigating, and noticing key details rather than idly wondering about hypotheticals.

And a good (though of course oft-excepted) rule of thumb: in the absence of dramatic irony, if the protagonist isn't scared your reader probably isn't going to be scared.

2) Specificity of Detail

It's very important to keep in mind that just about every noun has a default mental image associated with it, and it's one reason why it's important to be as precise as possible with descriptions. When we read that someone is wielding a gun, unless you specify otherwise we're going to assume the the character holding it in their hand and not their feet. When we read the word office, we're going to assume there's a desk, a computer, and maybe some filing cabinets unless the writer specifies otherwise.

And in this case, when the author says someone arrives at "home," maybe it's just me but I'm picturing a house without any clarifying detail. I don't even live in a house and I still picture a house. But then it's referred to as a "den," and coming after the phrase "deep animal instinct," I thought okay, this is an animal and they're arriving back at their den. Then we get to "dorm," and I had to revise my mental image a third time.

It's a jarring experience for the reader to have to continually revise their mental image of a setting, and it doesn't establish trust that the reader is in sure hands. In this case, the first line could have very easily specified that Liska was arriving back at her dorm room and we would have been on solid footing, since it's specific. Then when we got to "den" we'd be more likely to read it as I suspect the author intends - that this character is part animal or has animal-like tendencies. But even then it's important to clue the reader in that the character is literally thinking like an animal, and reinforce that interpretation as much as possible because it's probably not the first place the reader's mind is going to go.

3) Flow

I thought there were some interesting stylistic touches, but I'm afraid these paragraphs never quite got into a flow for me. Part of this was due to several tense inconsistencies, and there were also some sentences that felt broken off before their natural completion. I wasn't feeling like one sentence was leading naturally to the next.

Also, I felt like some of the details were vague when they could have been more specific, and as a result I had some trouble unpacking the last paragraph on the page especially. For instance, is her entire family really prone to/capable of breaking into her dorm room or is there one or two specific family members that she'd be worried about?

REDLINE

Secrets of the Moon Fox

Fantasy/Suspence


Arriving home, Liska noticed instantly, even before she got to the door, that someone was already inside. Living alone, and being mildly anti-social, this was neither expected nor desired. Passive voice/fragment. It also feels a bit languid if we're supposed to get the sense that she's nervous - she just seems mildly bothered. (this might be the intent) Now, was whoever was inside looking for Liska or ‘Anna’? I am not anti-rhetorical questions in novels themselves. But I found this one a little jarring.

She analyzed the place silently "The place" feels a bit vague to me. Is there something in particular she's looking at to help ground us?. There was no outward proof to back up her suspicions. The door was still shut, and apparently locked "apparently" locked? How can she tell?, the windows were shaded just as she had left them, but instinct, deep animal instinct warned her I'm afraid the repetition of "instinct, deep animal instinct" didn't quite work for me. Her den had been invaded. But by whom and why?

A college dorm room is not known for being overly secure Aren't they?. This dorm, built in the same mold of a motel, was even less so. Absolutely anyone could have walked onto the campus, picked or forced the sub-standard lock, and waltzed in. Yes, she was on the second floor, which made random break-ins a touch less likely, but it wasn’t impossible. This didn’t feel random, though I think this would read better without the "though".

It could have been a thief or an attacker that was focused on her "that was focused on her" reads awkwardly - don't think you need "that was", and "focused" seems vague. What does "focused on" mean? Are they targeting her? Investigating her? Hunting her? or her current ‘safe’ persona. If that was were the case, it would have been wise to have Liska ready, even if not immediately apparent I'm not sure what "if not immediately apparent" means. On the other hand, it could have been something logical and harmless, like the RA doing an inspection or leaving a note; or maintenance or the bug exterminator she had been warned would come by sometimes. Those would definitely have been ‘Anna’ visitors. It could have been a family member waiting for her; to deliver a message, or test her. Or both.






111 comments:

HJHarding said...

Secrets of the Moon Fox

Fantasy/Suspence


Arriving home, Liska noticed instantly, even before she got to the door, that someone was already inside. Living alone, and being mildly anti-social, this was neither expected nor desired. Now, was whoever was inside looking for Liska or ‘Anna’?

She analyzed the place silently. There was no outward proof to back up her suspicions. The door was still shut, and apparently locked, the windows were shaded just as she had left them, but instinct, deep animal instinct warned her. Her den had been invaded. But by whom and why?

A college dorm room is not known for being overly secure. This dorm, built in the same mold of a motel, was even less so. Absolutely anyone could walk onto the campus, pick or force the sub-standard lock, and waltz in. Yes, she was on the second floor, which made random break-ins a touch less likely, but it wasn’t impossible. This didn’t feel random, though.

It could be a thief or an attacker that was focused on her or her current ‘safe’ persona. If that was the case, it would be wise to have Liska ready, even if not immediately apparent. On the other hand, it could be something logical and harmless, like the RA doing an inspection or leaving a note; or maintenance or the bug exterminator she had been warned would come by sometimes. Those would definitely be ‘Anna’ visitors. It could be a family member waiting for her; to deliver a message, or test her. Or both.

Zeig-Zag said...

Title: Pixie Chick
Genre: Urban Fantasy/Comedy

Socks tumbled to the floor as I rooted through my top drawer. I
didn't have time to pick them up.
Underwear, mementos, long-forgotten sachets that smelled more like
oak drawer than lavender—I pushed these aside.
It wasn't in there.
Next, I attacked the top of my dresser. Picture frames tipped,
papers scattered, stacks of books toppled in my flurry.
There was no way I was going to start my first day of high school
without my good luck charm. Not that I'm superstitious. Ok, maybe I
am. I am half-Pixie after all and what is luck without magic?
"Where is it?" I moaned. I turned and fished through my bed, a
twin-sized flower box filled with daisies, but to no avail. In my
haste, I beheaded a daisy. I tossed it aside to mend later. No time
to fix it; I was going to miss the bus.
"Ivy, I'm walking out the door," my brother Daniel called as I ripped
at the enchanted vines that grew along the shelf on my wall. I moved
my eyes along the platform.
Nothing.
"I know. I'm coming." I threw myself on the floor, sweeping my
fingers through the charmed grass, like a grain combine. "I just have
to find—" I stopped. The bathroom. I took it off there.
In the non-enchanted human bathroom, I rummaged though my trinkets.
Hair bands, clips, barrettes, slipped through my fingers. "No, no,
no." At last my hand closed around a familiar smooth object. I pulled
it free from the entanglement. "Found it!"

John said...

Working Title: The Powder Keg
Genre: Historical Fiction
Word Count: 243

As these things tend to happen, it all started with someone famous getting murdered in the prime of life.
It was late October on the streets of Chicago, 1914. Jackson Belmont, an orphan raised by the city, dashed on foot through the red shadows of that twilight realm, cigarette perched companionably in the corner of his mouth. He was almost to the glittering house on South Michigan Avenue, where he would pull the curtains shut and still a trembling heart.
The sidewalks that night brimmed with overdressed theatergoers, haunted mill workers, slim-hipped jugglers, and tastefully unhinged magicians. They were the cliff dwellers of progress. Every day, without fail, the citizens stirred up the clangor of industry, of money exchanging hands. Jackson could hear the pounding from every corner of Chicago since the day he was born, the thundering clockwork of a new age. But as he moved among the distracted crowds, the tang of destiny clinging to him like lemon-sharp sunlight, people seemed aware of his power and turned their faces to him. The alabaster skin; the dark, romantic curls styled close to the face; the sexually implicit smile; the loose and confident posture – the whole thuggish allure, in fact – caused people to take notice and part before him like sea tides. Jackson wondered if any of them would awake the next morning and suspect him, when they read in the papers about a freewheeling socialite whose brazen good fortune ended in bloodshed.

Matthew said...

The Afflicted Land

Historical Fiction

What was a brisk creek had sprawled into a deluge, and Josiah Snow scowled at it. Until then, Josiah had appreciated Genowasa Creek as a rare ally in the wilderness. With the nearby Indian path overgrown, the creek provided an alternative for reaching the bountiful hunting grounds the Indians had ceded. But on this first clear day in a rainy September, the water was too swift for Josiah and his two boys to risk navigating a canoe upstream. The creek also overtopped its banks, soaking the bottoms of massive pines and sycamores in the dense woods and rendering the creek bed impassable on foot.



Josiah had never seen the creek rise this much in the two years since settling there. He wanted to reward his sons’ harvest work with their first up-creek hunting trip, and he grimaced when he saw Ben and Will slump their shoulders.



But, he remembered, frontier life was about finding another way across, through, over. He bade the boys follow him on the path that led toward the farm, safe on high ground overlooking the creek’s confluence with the Mohawk River. Ben hurried as Will shuffled behind, mumbling complaints about returning to the drudgery of cutting hay and helping their mother string peas.



When the path forked, Josiah turned right, toward the Mohawk, instead of left, toward the cabin and fields. Ben and Will paused, then their father’s idea dawned on the older boy. Ben darted ahead and scrambled down the declivity with Will in pursuit.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Title: Arclight
Genre: dark YA fantasy

If I close my eyes now, I can sneak four minutes before the bell signals next class. Mr. Pace won't care, he's in his own world full of numbers and letters, and I lost track of what he was saying half an equation ago. A nap would be great.

But then that blue bulb starts up again.

Everyone sits straighter in their seats. There's a pause in the cadence of Mr. Pace's words. The chalk breaks under the pressure of his halt and his eyes flick left to the silent alarm over the window. He takes a breath, erases his stray mark, and starts over.

This time everyone listens because the sound of his voice gives us something to think about other than the light reflecting off our desks a half beat out of time with our hearts. It doesn't matter that the words are artificially slow, or that his voice is higher than usual, or that Mr. Pace makes a mistake... he never makes mistakes.

We don't look sideways, because no one wants to know that everyone else is as scared as they're trying not to be. Warnings aren't supposed to last this long.

Then the blue turns violet.

Al Teter said...

Title: Try Anything Twice
Genre: Erotic Romance M/M

My friends and I were already sloshed before our last round of drinks, but my boyfriend wanted another, so I was elected to fight the crowd.

I noticed the guy sitting up at the bar as soon as I got in line: very intriguing. The longer I looked, the more he appealed to me.

Very attractive. Not in a magazine-model way, not generic like that; he had his own look. Added to that was his healthy build, the way he was dressed, and his attitude. Very fit looking, and relaxed. Self-confident, but without the slightest hint of arrogance. Casually dressed, but sexy as hell. Everything about him just drew me in.

A totally straight-looking guy, in a gay bar. Well, at that time of night it was basically an after-hours bar. Half the people there were straight; maybe he was, too. Either way, I just couldn’t keep my eyes off him.

He saw me looking, and smiled. Smiled at me so warmly, so openly, I thought he must have mistaken me for someone else. I smiled right back at him before I had time to get embarrassed. And then suddenly I felt like I knew him from somewhere. It was strange, because I knew we’d never met.

He was so hot. Way out of my league. I’d embarrass myself if I tried to talk to him, but he was definitely nice to look at.

The line for drinks kept moving up, and I got closer and closer to him.

Creepy Query Girl said...

TITLE: Welcome to Coventry
GENRE: YA Contemporary Romance

Avery Desjardins and her mother watched as the flames and smoke poured out of the small country store. A white cross was painted over what was left of the front door and underneath it the message: ‘May God Save Your Soles.’
Avery sighed. They could have at least spelt ‘souls’ right. She doubted this was done because they had made some kind of fashion faux pas.
She knew it hadn’t been a good idea to open up a neo-pagan book shop right smack in the midst of the most radical Baptist region in the country. She had tried to tell her mother, but Natalie wouldn’t listen.
Avery turned and put an arm around the slender woman by her side. Tears made clean trails through the ash and soot on her mother’s cheeks and Avery squeezed her shoulders protectively. The sound of sirens came from somewhere in the distance.
* * *
“I’m sorry Avery.” Her mother said for the fifteenth time as they continued to pack their belongings.
“Mom, stop saying that! It’s not your fault.”
Natalie continued to fold clothes but was tight lipped. “I should have listened to you. And the cards. All the signs were there but I was just so ready to settle, you know?”
Avery struggled not to roll her eyes. “I know mom.” “Me too.”
The moving had begun after Avery’s dad had died six years ago.
Natalie Desjardins was on a mission.

Sea said...

Title: Naughty Gnomes
Genre: Romantic Comedy

When a plate shatters, it makes a loud crashing noise, but when a heart breaks, there is only silence.

Oh, and sometimes there’s loud wailing, hysterical sobbing, and the gurgle of one choking on their own snot too, but for me there was only silence. The wailing and its charming sidekicks came later. As for the plate - well I’d like to tell you I smashed it over the bastard’s head, but in reality I accidentally knocked it off the sink when I was making my grand exit.

Anyway, an entire month after my fiancé, Carl, left me for another woman, his pretty, boyish face was still looming before me. The only difference was that while once I found it angelic, it now reminded me of a malevolent pixie.

Well, that and this time my view of his face was speckled by leaves. Probably because I was hiding in a hedge on the outskirts of Cafe De Ramez instead of sitting beside him, staring into his eyes like a love-struck moron.

Ants and twigs were brazenly exploring my body as no man ever had, but my attention was devoted entirely to glaring at Carl. Carl didn’t glare back. I made my own glare more intense. He still didn’t notice me. To be fair, I was mostly obscured from his sight by the hedge, which was all part of my clever plan, but I was starting to suspect I could have danced with a dead man on the nearest table and he still wouldn’t have noticed.

H.C.Reignoir said...

Less than a minute too late.
Never mind, I'll nail it eventually. Good morning everyone. :)

Nathan Bransford said...

Holy Cannoli you guys are fast.

HJHarding was fasters - thanks everyone for entering!

Unrepentant Escapist said...

Close again.

Josin L. McQuein said...

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

So.close.

*flails*
*cries*
*gnashes teeth*
*faints*





*goes off to splint sprained refreshing finger*

The Dawdling Inscriber said...

Title: Beauty In The Breakdown
Genre: Romantic Allegory



The raven haired beauty sat stirring her DiSaronna and coke with her short stubby finger, a feigned look of interest on her face. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending upon how you looked at it, the painfully average looking guy next to her didn't seem to notice as he continued to rattle on about the tax benefits of itemizing. He paused and cleared his throat. She panicked. Oh no! Is he waiting for an answer to a question she didn't even hear?


"So Marianne, are you having a good time?" the suitor asked.
She could feel her nostrils flare and her face get feverish. She slid out of the booth and rose to her feet.
"I'm sorry Greg? Is that your name?" Of course judging by the self satisfied look on his face, she could tell it was. "No! No I'm NOT having a good time! Not at all! And for the last time, it's Mariana! That's pronounced Mary-Anna! And I'm leaving!"


She knew she had perhaps overreacted a bit. After all, this one was atleast on time, hadn't disappeared when the waiter brought the check, and not only did he know what a comb actually was, but even had the need for one. She guessed that maybe she'd just had enough of all the set ups. After all, Greg was the twelfth one in two months.

Once home, Mariana changed into her favorite raggity old sweats, switched on her Across the Universe soundtrack, and reached for the tub of ice cream.

Leis said...

Title: THE RIVER BETWEEN
Genre: Literary

The air pungent with a fluvial brew. Algae, moss, the swill of upstream denizens. Giant whiskered sheatfish stalking from the murky depths. Threads of wintry chill. To the right where the road coils around jagged mountainsides, the tarmac dimming to obscurity. If the river hides in a cape of timbered cliffs, its growl speaks of raw power.

Beneath the roar footsteps in the gravel. Three disparate strides like discordant instruments. To the left a stretch of the road awash in floodlight from a sentinel base about half mile down. Between the light and the dark, threading a gravelish tongue to the water's edge, three lone figures bowed under the loads on their backs. Their very selves to be offered in the open luminescence as in the palm of a god. They must hold no fear. The river will snare the cowardly soul in its watery ropes. More angry and vengeful here past the Iron Gates dam. More dark and unforgiving for being made a slave to this oppressive Balkan ilk. But if the beseecher were to come cleanhearted and fearless, then freedom may be claimed.

They crouch in the silence in the soaked gravel shifting underfoot.
Wetness seeps between loosened seams on the girl's laced-up boots and she waddles back a step.
The tall man stands back shaking off droplets from his hand. “Too cold to swim,” he says.

The older man dips in his right hand to the wrist. He stares thoughtfully across the gloomy breadth.

Jared Larson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Leis said...

Title: THE RIVER BETWEEN
Genre: Literary

The air pungent with a fluvial brew. Algae, moss, the swill of upstream denizens. Giant whiskered sheatfish stalking from the murky depths. Threads of wintry chill. To the right where the road coils around jagged mountainsides, the tarmac dimming to obscurity. If the river hides in a cape of timbered cliffs, its growl speaks of raw power.

Beneath the roar footsteps in the gravel. Three disparate strides like discordant instruments. To the left a stretch of the road awash in floodlight from a sentinel base about half mile down. Between the light and the dark, threading a gravelish tongue to the water's edge, three lone figures bowed under the loads on their backs. Their very selves to be offered in the open luminescence as in the palm of a god. They must hold no fear. The river will snare the cowardly soul in its watery ropes. More angry and vengeful here past the Iron Gates dam. More dark and unforgiving for being made a slave to this oppressive Balkan ilk. But if the beseecher were to come cleanhearted and fearless, then freedom may be claimed.

They crouch in the silence in the soaked gravel shifting underfoot.
Wetness seeps between loosened seams on the girl's laced-up boots and she waddles back a step.
The tall man stands back shaking off droplets from his hand. “Too cold to swim,” he says.

The older man dips in his right hand to the wrist. He stares thoughtfully across the gloomy breadth.

Amanda Sablan said...

I actually wanted to do this for once, but the one minute in which I wasn't near a computer, my chances were ruined. :/

Ily said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Becca said...

i missed again :(
Next week my writing will be Toby Stein's hands, after that I am stalking the blog!
hehehe.

Jared Larson said...

GOSH DARNIT!

Sea said...

Man. I stayed up til 3.30 am in order to try and get this. My laptop even came to the toilet with me for the first time ever. *sigh*

The time difference thing is pretty horrible. I wonder if there are any other ways of doing it without inundating Nathan with excerpts...

Amanda said...

I've been stalking the blog all morning. Reminded me of calling in to a radio show - And we will take the 5th caller!

LOL, TANJ :) I had a student come in and looked a way for 10 minutes...

Patty Blount said...

Let me just say I really want to read "Naughty Gnomes"!

Leis said...

Congrats HJHarding, well done :) Will have a read shortly.

I made a mess of it... sorry Nathan, seems I can't delete my late double entry...

Amanda said...

@Josin

I so want to know what this is about! I loved it last week, too.

Unrepentant Escapist said...

Comments on the piece--

I think there are a lot of excess clauses that take away from the immediacy of your sentences. The beginning sentence, for example, would probably be better without the 'instantly.' Likewise the instinct clause in the next paragraph is repetitive.

Also, I want details about how she knew no one was there. Does she have some jury-rigged alarm system? Does she notice an alien smell? Details like this will tell us info about your character--like that's she fastidiously clean or paranoid, etc. Saying she just somehow "knows" feels like a cop-out to me. And then she also somehow knows that it isn't a random burglar...Unless she reveals psychic powers in the next page or two, I'd put the book down.

Would an anti-social person be living in the dorms in the first place? I know my friend with multiple personality disorder avoided the dorms for precisely that reason. He didn't want to deal with people who wouldn't except him as he was.

I like the character and the mystery of who Anna/Liska are. It's very intriguing. Good way of distinguishing your character and making her interesting right from the getgo.

Mira said...

Congrats to HJHarding!

Ahhhh Josin. I feel for you. That's sort of terrible. Two weeks in a row you almost had it.

For what it's worth, I think it's a great.

Cheryl said...

I too was stalking the blog but then I had to go volunteer in my son's kindergarten class. Go figure.

H.C.Reignoir said...

: cracks knuckles:
Okay, the beginning is intriguing. Very intriguing. I want to keep reading. Coming home to finding that someone else is already there is always intriguing if not slightly cliché.
Then we learn that she has an alter persona, Anna. Putting that in the first paragraph is excellent, essential information should always go first.
We also know that she has some sort of powers since she can "sense" there is someone in there. Animal instinct? Is she a werewolf? Liska does sound like Lycan.
Then you delay the action by talking about what "home" is. A college dorm. Still, very good.
Then "it would be wise to keep Liska" ready throws me off. Is Liska a different person? Like the personification of her wolf? Then what's her name? Is Anna her "human" name? I'm very confused.
Your mention of a "test" has me intrigued once again.
I'd like to read more. :)

Josin L. McQuein said...

Hi HJH, congrats on the speedy button pushing!

In the first paragraph, I'm going to assume that Liska is the one who's anti-social, unfortunately, it took me about 3 reads to figure that out. I thought you were saying the person inside was living alone, which didn't mesh with it being Liska's home. I think you'd do yourself a huge favor by trimming that first sentence down. You did a good job of setting up something interesting in that paragraph, though.

By the 2nd paragraph it's clear that you're clogging your narrative with too many clauses that repeat information. And I'm not sure that ending two paragraphs back to back on questions works here.

3rd paragraph, you're getting the information out, but you're using it like a club rather than a paintbrush.

All the backtracking talk and indecision in the last paragraph masks what's probably key character set-up. Maybe structuring some of this as Liska's actual thoughts would help break it up.

Emily White said...

Congratulations on getting your page in! It looks like it's pretty tough.

My thoughts:

I was at first confused by the Liska/Anna thing, but I was pleased to see that you explained that right in the first page.

I would have liked to know what she DID see to make her think that someone had broken into her room. So far, you just tell us why she shouldn't think it had happened (locked door, etc.) I'm guessing she has some kind of sixth sense about this stuff, but I don't really like guessing on the first page. I like to have a better idea of your world and your characters' extra abilities (as long as you're telling us they have them).

That being said, I liked how you built up the suspense. I probably would have turned the page because I would want to know who was in the room, and I would hope to find how just how Liska knew someone was there.

Marilyn Peake said...

HJHARDING,

I think there needs to be more action, and less telling. The rule that you should "show, not tell" seems to apply here. The second paragraph is really where the action starts. The first paragraph lists too many details. In order for a story to work, the reader needs to be brought into the story, so that they feel what’s going on. They need to feel the main character’s fear, rather than be told all the reasons why the character’s afraid or why someone might have been able to break into the room. In the third and fourth paragraphs, there are so many details listed, they actually block the reader from feeling fear for the main character. If you stay within the main character’s head and describe what she’s seeing and provide frightening and mysterious details about her surroundings, the reader would be much more likely to experience fear and suspense and to not be able to put the book down. Hope that helps. :)

sooper said...

dayum the ppl here are quick!

Phyllis said...

Congrats HJHarding for getting in so early.

I like that the story starts with an immediate threat: someone broke into the protags home.

However, I have some structural problems. After the first two paragraphs -- and knowing the genre was fantasy -- I thought the protag lived in the forest (alone, anti-social, den), so when I read college dorm, I was surprised, and not in a good way.

Then there are the two personas: Leiska is obviously the real name, and probably the one with the supernatural abilities, "Anna" would be an alias.

I'm not fond of the quotation marks with "Anna" and "safe". They take me out of the text and make me think how it should be read instead of staying within the story. But the greater problem is a slight shift in perspective. You start with Liska, and we are firmly in her mind, but in the last paragraph you say "it would be wise to have Liska ready" as if she would have to be summoned in some way. If you want the reader to know her as Liska, you might consider a different wording.

I found the syntax a little cumbersome. I didn't have flow. "Arriving home, Liska noticed instantly, even before she got to the door, that someone was already inside." You've got a participle modifier at the beginning, two temporal adjuncts ("instantly", "even before she got to the door"), one of them a subordinate clause, that goes between the verb and its object clause.

Actually, I think that you want to put too much information into that first sentence: that Liska arrives home, that she notices somebody is inside, and that she does so without entering the room.

Finally, I wish more would be happening here. You've got 250 words and you keep your heroine standing in front of a door speculating. What does she do?

Thanks for sharing, and good luck with your novel!

Claudie said...

This is hilarious. I've been refreshing madly for hours, but then I had to do the grocery. When I left my screen, I was CERTAIN I'd miss out on my chance.

I refreshed the computer first thing upon returning and, there we go. Haha! I'll have better luck next week. Or next. Or SOMEDAY.

On the excerpt that won (*fake glare*), well, I like it! I wasn't sure about the 'finding someone home' part, but the moment you hinted at an alter ego is the moment I got hooked.

Anonymous said...

Interesting and intriguing set up. I like how you work in that the character has two identities, and, depending on the situation, she needed to "be" either one or the other. However, the entire passage strikes me as telling not showing. A few physical sensations (sweat trickling, hair on the back of the neck prickling or whatever) would help me relate to her more. Is she nervous about the intrusion to her privacy or simply annoyed? I honestly don't know.

And I think she needs to see SOMETHING that provides a clue to a presence in her room.

But I'm definitely interested in finding out more about Liska/Anna. Thanks for sharing, and congratulations on being first!

patlaff said...

Sandwich: great tension from the beginning; confusion surrounding why 'Anna' needs quotation marks and the sentence structure of "it would be wise to have Liska ready;" additional intrigue with family member coming to deliver a message, test her, or both.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Thanks Amanda :-)

MBW aka Olleymae said...

I really like the mystery of Anna and Liska (who sound like different facets of the same person from this excerpt).

I agree with Unrepentant Escapist that it would be wonderful to show some details that indicate how Liska knows someone is inside and give us glimpse into the character's personality and living space. I would try to eliminate some of the "this"s and "that"s to make it read more smoothly.

Other than that, you've got me interested. I wish I could read more and find out who or what's in the house!

Maya said...

This is the first time I've gotten to it before Nathan's redlines. So I guess I'll have a go.

I'm definitely interested right away. Who is the intruder? And you've intrigued us by letting us know that Anna is an alias for Liska, who might be a spy or something.

One thing I found jarring. The first paragraph makes her sound only somewhat annoyed by finding an unexpected intruder in her home. But the second paragraph is jarring because you use much stronger phrases like "deep, animal instinct warned her". I also find it unlikely that animal instinct could tell her someone is in the den. (Also what kind of a dorm room has a den?) And if her instincts are so great, why doesn't she know if the intruder is friend or foe?

So basically, I see some inconsistent tone here, and I don't quite buy the instinct detail.

Still, I would read on, if only to find out who the intruder is! Nice hook.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but the first line lost me. It was cluttered and didn't have a nice flow to keep me reading.

The line 'A college dorm room is not known for being overly secure' speaks to me for some reason. I wonder if that might be one way to start the story - to go with that image of a dorm room, easy access/not secure which quickly suggests that somehow that room has been breached in some way. I think that could establish tension right away.

The last paragraph is, to me, more interesting. There is where it becomes clear there is much more to this person than we realize. But if I picked this up and read only the first paragraph - I'm not sure I keep reading until that last part.

Now, it might be something as simple as deleting the "arriving home" part of that first sentence. Maybe "Even before she got to the door, Liska knew someone was inside". Something along those lines - again, to me - seems more punchy and clear (and concise).

Sea said...

Hi HJHarding

Congratulations!

It's an interesting premise, I'm assuming she is a shape shifter at this point, and not knowing what's going on there is intriguing me more than who is inside :)

The first sentence could be made a lot stronger. 'instantly', and 'even before she got to the door' is a bit superfluous. Imagine something like:

Liska knew instantly that someone was inside. Someone who wasn't supposed to be there. The question was, were they harmless, or were they there to... (insert biggest risk here. or if the risk isn't great, perhaps something intriguing like 'there to ruffle her carefully arranged fur.' but better :) )

Which leads me to my second thought, and that is, I want to know the stakes sooner, especially if they're high. Otherwise I'm not all that curious to find out who is inside.

Also, if you don't like the first paragraph rearrangement, you probably noticed the last sentence of the first para has an extra 'was' in it. I'd suggest 'whoever was waiting for her inside after Liska or 'Anna'' - because waiting again raises the stakes a little.

My other thought was, I'd prefer it if you 'showed' me rather than 'told' me. ie living alone, and being mildly anti-social, this was neither expected nor desired'. and 'she analyzed the place silently'. Instead you could say something like: Her nostril's flared as she scented the air. or: She eyed the closed door and the drawn curtains, positioned innocuously just as she'd left them.

None of these examples are perfect but hopefully you can see the difference between telling and showing.

'This didn't feel random though' struck me as a little off. I mean, if she has no idea if the person is innocent or has ill intent, how can she feel if it is random or not? I'm not sure you even need the 'yes she was on the second floor...' sentence. It starts feeling like too much detail. Would she really be analysing how living on the second floor influences the chance of random break ins? I think it could move faster.

Also, if she can have Liska 'ready but not apparent', surely she'd instantly do that as soon as she sensed danger? Unless she can only do that at great cost for some reason...

Anyway. I think that's plenty from me. I'll let others pick up on the other points.

Overall, I think it definitely has potential, just needs some pruning and shaping to be as impacting as possible. I like the title :)

Good luck

Amanda Sablan said...

While I like the set-up of your opening passage, HJHarding, when I read it (and maybe this is just me) it didn't really strike me as a beginning. It didn't have that feeling of first chapter commencement.

And should we as readers know right off the bat that the character lives alone and is mildly antisocial? Those are attributes which shouldn't be given to us so soon, but rather gradually, maybe still in the first chapter. Of course, you must SHOW her solitude through demonstration, not merely instruction by itself.

Here's another of my opinions which is just that, an opinion: Turn 'But by whom and why?' into two separate thoughts, which flows better: 'But by whom? And why?'

Best of luck on your improvement and don't give up hope! :]

MJR said...

I would like to see more showing, less telling to add immediacy and to draw the reader in. You say she's mildly anti-social, but it may be better to show this aspect of her in a telling detail.

I'm assuming Liska is a vampire or some kind of paranormal creature? Maybe a couple of details alerting us to what that creature is would pique the reader's interest (you mention that they invaded her den--is she a werewolf?)

It might create more suspense if she has a visceral (fear/anger) reaction to the break-in rather than such a cool and rational one.

I am curious about what/who is in the room....

Maya said...

On second reading, I realized that "den" probably just meant home. I was thinking of a room called a "den" as in a study or office. So that was confusing for me. But even with that realization, I don't quite buy that her deep animal-instinct told her someone was in there without some sort of clue. Unless she has supernatural senses, in which case that should be mentioned.

J. T. Shea said...

But I want WITWHOLIEICDTAASRN Monday! You promised! As for Insert Other Kind Of Monday, let's not go there...

Bravo to H. J. Harding for courage and quick typing! A few thoughts:-

Suspence? Blame the keyboard. I always do!

'Living alone, and being mildly anti-social, this was neither expected nor desired.' A bit passive?

Does she analyze the place from outside or does she go in? (She says the door is still shut and apparently locked.)

'This dorm, built in the same in the same mold of a motel, was even less so.' Replace the 'of' with 'as'?

May I again remind everyone we know less about this novel than anyone else who will read. Thanks again to H. J. Harding.

Kristi Helvig said...

The scene is set up to have great potential for tension, especially with the 'two' main characters. My first thought was that there were way too many adverbs - if you describe the action well, you won't need them. Also, there's too much telling and not enough showing. Have your MC interact with the environment rather than contemplating it so much. Tighten it up and you'll have a much stronger opening. Good luck!

Unrepentant Escapist said...

My earlier comment got deleted, perhaps for sounding too critical. To rephrase:

I really think you've done a great job setting up a mystery. I find the nature of Anna/Liska to be quite intriguing. Multiple personalities? Some kind of pet or host alien riding her body?

On the downside, stylistically I think you're using a lot of to-be verbs and passive phrasing. You also have clauses that feel a little repetitive (ie, the instinct twice), at least from my perspective. I get that it could be an intentional part of your character's voice, almost like a stutter, which could be interesting, but I'm not sure if that's what you're going for or not.

I would like to see a little more detail about how she knows someone is there, that there's some smell or something else that's wrong--like a hair across the doorknob she's set up because she thinks someone is trying to kill her.

I love to see books where the main protagonist is really socially awkward. Since a lot of the heroines of the paranormal market tend to be mighty, beat-up-the-vampires-and-then-kiss them architypes, I think you've got a great chance to be different, in a good way. I think you have a good start and it just needs a little fine-tuning.

D. G. Hudson said...

Congrats HJ Harding! It takes fast fingers and a brave heart to put your work out for critique.

I thought the questions posed at the end of paragraphs 1 & 2 were unnecessary. In addition, we are given hints at the duality of the protagonist before we have any evidence of why the subterfuge is needed. (who and what is she?) Also, be careful with your spelling, 'Suspence' in your genre indication should be 'Suspense'.

Once the setting details indicated a 'dorm', I had a better idea that this was a YA story.

It would be nice to see something other than fantasy/YA on these critique Mondays. But we can all learn from Nathan's analysis of what is right or wrong with this excerpt.

Will check back later for the redline comments.

Perry said...

The story does pose some interesting questions. Is Liska and Anna the same person? Why would someone need to break in to meet either of them?

The passage is entirely in Liska's head so there is little action, and the pace doesn't build tension. I think it's a good place to open the story, but I would like to see the action start in the first 250 words, even if the last sentence is where it happens.

Unrepentant Escapist said...

Okay...now my earlier comment reappeared. So...uh, never mind.

*Shakes fist.

Curse you, internets!!!

Jill said...

You know, this whole First 250 Words thing is really hard. So many unanswered questions -- well yes, obviously. It's only 250 words!

I really liked the Anna/Liska thing -- split personality? Secret agent? House pet? (I'll admit that at first I thought your MC might be a cat -- Liska being her true cat name. I'm so embarrassed!)

The one phrase that really stuck out for me was "mold of a motel room." I've been in moldy motel rooms before. Ick!

As others have said, there is some tightening up to do, but I'm intrigued enough to want to read more!

The Dawdling Inscriber said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
reader said...

I like it that the character seems thoughtful; I have a tendency to like literary fiction for this reason. For fantasy/suspense, though, I'm not sure if it drags it down a little too much(?)

Too many "ly" verbs; instantly, midly, silently,etc.. -- but those are easily fixable, it's just a matter of a read through.

A mix up of tenses too. "She analyzed" and "a college room is not known for..." pick a tense and stick with it. Should read "a college room WAS not known for..."

Love the title. Good luck.

Tessa said...

Congratulations HJHarding! I think you have a good start here. I really like the situation you open with, and I would definitely keep reading.

Here are my thoughts:

The story opens with a good, tense situation - a possible intruder. But the backstory clogs some of the immediacy of what's going on.

1. In paragraph one, using the word "noticed" contradicts paragraph two's "there was no outward proof."

Also, I think the fact that Liska lives alone is implied by her sensing an intruder and doesn't need to be explained.

Finally, the sentence "was whoever was inside looking for Liska or 'Anna'" is a bit clunky, and maybe the idea of her double persona could be better represented by a visual cue, like seeing "Anna" written on Liska's dorm door.

2. This paragraph is the best at tackling the situation. Along with what she sees, I would like to hear what she does about it.

3. Paragraphs three and four spend a lot of time describing how a dorm works with phrases like "sub-standard lock" and "RA doing an inspection." I think all of that information can be conveyed just by saying the word "dorm" because most people have either lived in one or seen them on TV or in movies.

4. The really important info in paragraphs three and four is that the intruder isn't random, Anna is the safe persona while Liska is the dangerous one, and her family knows what she is and provides tests for her.

However, the last part seems like it might be better suited for later in the story as it doesn't really apply to the intruder situation (unless, of course, the intruder is a family member). Also, the idea that the intruder isn't random is covered in Liska's earlier use of the word "invaded." The word sounds sinister and leads the reader to assume the opening event isn't the result of a chance break-in.

Possible edits:

Even before she got to the door, Liska sensed someone was already inside. Her dorm door marked "Anna" was still shut, the windows shaded just as she had left them, but deep animal instinct warned her: her home had been invaded.

...and then maybe start in on how the Liska persona gets ready for a confrontation with a possible internal thought about her trying to do so in a way that would protect Anna's identity.

The Dawdling Inscriber said...

@ AL OOO! I'm very intrigued! I love the instant spark between the two characters

Jessica Peter said...

I don't have a critique just yet as I only have a minute, but 'Anna' sounds to me not like an alternate personality or shapeshifter-other-self, but a name Liska is using to hide under. Even though it's fantasy, I wonder if she has been victimized in the past or is hiding from SOMEONE. Though I would also like some clarity on how she knows someone is there though!

John C said...

LOL@ all the near-simultaneous entries.

It's all about who can type in the word verification the fastest. :D

treeoflife said...

I'm going to wait to see what Nathan says on the winner, but I just wanted to quickly add another shout out to Naughty Gnomes.

I normally would convulse at the thought of romantic comedy, but I smiled from the moment I read the title until I finished the excerpt. And only stopped smiling because there was no more.

lexcade said...

dangit. i'm always asleep when you post this. curse my night job!

Call my Fizzy, I like things that go "Pop!" or "Kapow!" said...

Comments on the piece

Arriving home, Liska noticed instantly, even before she got to the door, that someone was already inside.

(Inverted syntax removes the immediacy. And how did she know before getting to the door that someone was inside? Try: Liska noticed instantly that someone was already inside her home. It’s simpler, but it cuts to the point.)

Living alone, and being mildly anti-social, this was neither expected nor desired. Now, was whoever was inside looking for Liska or ‘Anna’?

(I think anyone would be concerned that someone was inside their house without their knowledge, anti-social or not. The phrase “Now, was whoever…Anna” is awkward. Try: Was someone inside looking for her?)

She analyzed the place silently. There was no outward proof to back up her suspicions. The door was still shut, and apparently locked, the windows were shaded just as she had left them, but instinct, deep animal instinct warned her. Her den had been invaded. But by whom and why?

(Outward proof – redundant. I still am failing to see what makes her suspicious. As a reader, I want more than just instinct)

A college dorm room is not known for being overly secure. This dorm, built in the same mold of a motel, was even less so. Absolutely anyone could walk onto the campus, pick or force the sub-standard lock, and waltz in. Yes, she was on the second floor, which made random break-ins a touch less likely, but it wasn’t impossible. This didn’t feel random, though.

(I thought security on college campuses are actually pretty secure. Maybe clarify by saying that it’s state school, or not well funded? Also, up until now I had been picturing a home home, not a dorm. And why didn’t it feel random?)

It could be a thief or an attacker that was focused on her or her current ‘safe’ persona. If that was the case, it would be wise to have Liska ready, even if not immediately apparent. On the other hand, it could be something logical and harmless, like the RA doing an inspection or leaving a note; or maintenance or the bug exterminator she had been warned would come by sometimes. Those would definitely be ‘Anna’ visitors. It could be a family member waiting for her; to deliver a message, or test her. Or both.

(This is where we get to the meat, and it has the potential to be very tasty meat. I don't see the plot being used to full effect, though. The character has a dual identity (I think?) which would account for some of the suspicion. I would drop some light hints earlier to that effect (more than “Liska or ‘Anna”, allowing the reader to have a bit more to grasp at.)

Call my Fizzy, I like things that go "Pop!" or "Kapow!" said...

I'd like to add that I think I failed in the positivity part, not because there is nothing positive, but because I went into edit mode and got caught up and clicked send. I apologize. =( So I'd like to add the things I thought were really successful about this, and hope it's OK its in a later post. First, I thing opening in the action is a great way to start. I wanted to know if/who was in the apartment and why. The immediacy of those questions are directly linked to what I imagine the plot will surround: her dual identities and the people who are after her for X reason. I could be wrong, but even so, they hint at conflict which keeps the reader going. Nice way to open the scene. Also, I like the differentiation between Anna visitors and Liska visitors. Separating their identities makes her a more intriguing character overall.

Again, so sorry for leaving out the fun stuff. =/

treeoflife said...

Thanks HJHarding for submitting your excerpt for comment.

I did like the suspenseful beginning, as it had an immediate hook. You had my attention right away.

I was confused by the switch between home, den, and dorm, and had to adjust my mental image twice... I also wondered how she could instantly notice someone was inside her dorm room, even with no signs. I've been in a dorm, and it's basically a row of doors that look the same. If they're all closed, there's nothing more to see. I appreciate animal instincts and all, but instincts have to be about picking up subtle clues, not some 6th sense, or 'the force' equivalent.

The other thing that lost me was the term RA. What's an RA? I had to pause there to think about it. I assume it's someone who works in the dorm, but I'm not familiar with what the initials stand for.

Josin L. McQuein said...

treeoflife -

RA= Resident advisor. Someone who shouldn't be sneaking into rooms without permission, btw, which was another moment of pause for me. The MC is far too calm over the prospect of her RA waltzing in and out of her room

Anonymous said...

I LOVE this segment!

And isn't it killer sitting on your LOST hands, Nathan!!!

Great job and bravery, HJHarding! I can't imagine the showdown when this posted -Woa Nellie!Fastest gun in the west wins!

Okay, ditto for all of Nathan's remarks along with loving the suspense and agreeing with the edits. Additionally, I would describe what RA means. Not all your readers will understand abbreviations.

(By the way, Nathan, please talk to us about agent/editor editing programs so we can be up to speed on how to run with them. On this segment (and in the forums) your format makes everything so clear, but is it different in the real world of editing/critiques?)

Kate said...

Congrats to the winner!

I'm immediately interested to learn what the mystery is here. However, I think the writer misses some opportunities to flesh out the story/setting/character due to telling and not showing. For example, I'd much prefer to discover how and why the MC is 'anti-social' rather than have it spelled out. For example, Austen doesn't tell us Lizzy is witty but it's obvious the first time she opens her mouth.

Also, I'm not sure that starting the first sentence of the novel with a clause is the strongest way to begin ("Arriving home,...")

"Liska noticed that someone was already inside her room, even before she got to the door." Or something like that.

We get the suspense issue right away, since that is the most interesting part, not that the MC is "arriving home."

I really liked that the opening has tension, as opposed to more cliche beginnings: dreaming, showering, blah blah. Good job!

Jil said...

I don't have time for the whole thing but thank you HJ Harding, your story did intrigue me and from the title containing" Moon Fox" the word den, and it being her safe place etc, seem appropriate. I see Anna, standing on the thresh hold, one paw raised, scenting a stranger.(although I know she's a girl at the moment}
I saw nothing wrong with the present tense describing how secure the dorm environment "always" is. I understand the "mold of a motel room" well enough. Aren't they all more or less the same= so I see your room.
I want to know who or what Liska is. Sorry I don't have time for the smaller things right now.
Thank you!

Emily Cross said...

Congrats HJHarding.

@ sea - Mon Dieu! I want to read your book (and i'm not a romcom fan at all!)

Heidi J. Johns said...

Congrats, HJ on getting on here first this week. I hope you find that the comments are helpful and that you are able to take away things that will strengthen your writing.

I think your premise is great. Liska and her other person arrive home and finds "their" dorm has been invaded. This would be a scary situation for most, but I didn't get the sense that she was scared. She seemed to just analyze what had happened. This tells me that she doesn't really care, that maybe she is just annoyed, or that she and her alter ego? Anna can handle whatever comes next.

(You do start out your first two sentences in the same way, and your rhetorical question uses "was" twice (not incorrectly, just twice). These can both be solved as you revise and tighten your writing.)

I also like your setting. Just the words college dorm conjures up a specific atmosphere. I would like the setting mentioned at the outset. And since dorms are usually lively places at all hours, what is going on around her? What time is she getting home?

When you say "analyzed the place silently," I'm already inside. Should I be? I don't think so, because even by the 4th paragraph, I'm pretty sure Liska is still outside. Maybe say, "analyzed the still shut and locked door"? Or "screened the...."

The third paragraph seems just extra and unnecessary. The needed information could be inserted elsewhere as you are revising and tightening.

Then, the last paragraph picks up the intrigue again. However, the writing is a little confusing. You say, "...her or her current 'safe' persona." Are they the same? Are they both Liska or both Anna? You also end with, "...or both." Does that refer to the family members who both test and deliver messages? Does it mean the visitor could be both an Anna visitor and a Liska visitor?

You have succeeded in a short bit to raise questions that keep the reader wanting to read. For example, I do like that there are Anna visitors and Liska visitors. Which one will she find inside? We will have to wait and see.

Well done! Thanks for being brave and posting this!

J. T. Shea said...

Interesting that Nathan and other commenters took it Liska stood outside, examining the place. I took it that she entered her room from an internal second floor corridor. Presumably it's a second floor motel-style external deck access instead?

I took 'deep animal instinct' as a clue to how Liska senses someone inside, further suggesting an animal alter-ego (A Moon Fox?).

I did quickly take the descriptions 'home' and 'den' and 'dorm' to refer to Liska's dorm room, 'den' possibly a metaphorically reference to her animal persona. There may be a thin line between intriquing and confusing, but I found the references intriguing, particular this close to the start of a novel.

I agree regarding the way various clauses chop up the flow.

Once again, I respectfully disagree with Nathan and other commenters regarding tense inconsistencies. I assume they are referring to the rhetorical questions Liska addresses to herself and her thoughts in the third and fourth paragraphs. The author could have put Liska's internal musings in quotation marks, italics, or the pluperfect tense, but that would not have improved the piece, in my opinion.

'A college dorm is not know for being overly secure.' is a statement about college dorms in general, before, during and after the time of the scene. 'A college dorm WAS not known for being overly secure.' sounds awkward to me.

Nathan's change of 'Absolutely anyone could walk onto the campus, pick or force the sub-standard lock, and waltz in.' to 'Absolutely anyone could HAVE walkED onto the campus, pickED or forceD the sub-standard lock, and waltzED in.' works fine, but not better than the original, I think.

But Nathan's pluperfect rewrite of paragraph four ruins it for me, and disturbs me greatly, since I have the highest regard for his judgment in just about every other matter. Polymath's interesting Forum thoughts on Free Indirect Discourse may be relevant here.

Al Teter said...

Congrats to HJ. It's certainly got me interested in reading more.

And to Dawdling Inscriber, thanks. You're first 250 has me wondering what comes next...

Jenny said...

HJHarding--way to type it out!

I am also in the camp of 'more action' and when I say that I don't mean blood, gore, fight scene kinda action. Liska has to do something.

And I'm going to go out on a limb here, and guess Liska/Anna is a fox of some sort. (Whether a 'were' creature or a spiritual tie-in to that particular animal or something else that you explain later in the story) If that's the case, you've got your 'in' for describing how she knows something's up--a smell, a shift in the air. Some kind of sensitivity.

The narration states that "deep animal instinct" is the way Liska/Anna is figuring out there's something off about her home. The action that I'd like to see, as a reader, is that instinct being used. Not 'analyzed', but 'sniffed'. (Or whatever sense you choose as a writer to bear the brunt of the information-loading.)

You also use two tenses to describe the situation, which left me a little muddled. In the first paragraph, the narration is that there's someone inside right now, at this moment. In the second paragraph it switches to 'had been invaded' indicating that the invader has left and she's sensing the remnants of his presence. The problem with tense switches is that you lose the immediacy of the situation, and therefore tension dissipates as well.

Here's the good stuff: the character is established as special right off the bat, a potentially action-packed scene has been introduced with just enough information to get us to root for the college coed defending her space, and you've also set up that her world is very different from ours.

And I also caught that her family might be a little 'off' as well. Test her? Hmmm....very interesting.

I'd also like to add that my word verification for this is 'ferret'a, which made me giggle. And I'd also like to apologize if I have repeated anyone else's comments, I haven't read those or Nathan's yet.

J. T. Shea said...

Jenny's analysis is interesting. She interprets the second chapter as indicating the intruder has already left. I assumed Liska believed the intruder was still inside somewhere. Believing the intruder to have already been and gone would justify Nathan's pluperfect rewrite. No doubt H. J Harding will clarify the matter, something we would easily do for ourselves if we had more than 250 words.

Maya said...

I'm also a little confused about Nathan's change in tense for the last paragraph. I understand that we are reading 3rd person past tense. But in the phrase "If that was the case, it would be wise" we are indicating the future. So do we have to switch to pluperfect or is simple future tense OK? Nathan, I wonder if you can give us an explanation for your tense choice.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

I think the tense issue is muddled because of a lack of clarity in the writing, particularly in regards to what many of the sentences are referring to. Is the narrator referring to the point in the near past when someone was actively breaking into the room? Or the break in as something active and ongoing, at that moment? And then it's further muddled by the introduction of hypotheticals, which are phrased in a way that they may be referring specifically to this case or they may be referring to possibilities in a general sense (as in, "such dorm rooms are often susceptible to such invasions as blah blah blah"). It makes it difficult to determine intention.

And it's not really clear that this is Free Indirect or simply a sort of chatty narrative voice. Maybe both? Maybe the transitions could be smoothed, but it's hard to say in a small sample size.

I like the idea of the opening, the hook of the dual character, the subtlety of the home invasion, but I struggle with the vagueness. Vague idea of instinct (animal instincts are not magical abilities based on nothing, but merely acute sensory perceptions that humans either don't have or ignore) and vague description. I think the scene could be framed a little clearer. The images should follow sensory perception: we see from large to small. We absorb the big picture first, and then narrow in on details. Here we have details first, and the big picture later, which makes it difficult to visualize. Either we're left with a vague, incomplete vision of the event, or we make something up and then have to go back and edit each time the big picture details are provided later on (which breaks the dream-like vision of the story).

Big to little. Motel dorm and the world around it, door, details that set off suspicion... (though, of course, that's more of a guideline than a rule, in the words of Captain Barbosa. Boo Yah for the Pirate's Code).

Anyway, it seems an intriguing set-up for a story. Two strong tensions resonating in the first 250 words is a good sign.

Nathan Bransford said...

maya-

To me, if it's the past it's the past. The only time the reader is really going to notice the tense is if it's inconsistent. But someone else may feel differently.

Melissa said...

Sea- "Naughty Gnomes"...Love the title and look forward to reading more.

HJHarding- Congratulations on the fast submission and thank you for being willing to let us all read and comment on it.

I was intrigued by the Liska/Anna. It made me interested in finding out more about the animal side in particular.

The use of "home" in the first sentence had me picturing a house. When I realized she was dealing with a dorm room, I was wondering why it was taking so long to examine it. The motel reference helped to visualize the arrangement but it came after I had already been picturing a completely different set-up (even after I changed the image in my mind from a house to a dorm.) I liked Tessa's suggestions for that part of the rewrite.

Your last paragraph piqued my curiosity as to what type of message or tests some of her family members might have for her. Sounds like a very interesting story.

Nathan- These page critiques are so helpful! Thank you for sharing your insight with all of us.

The Zuccini said...

Liska sensed even before she reached the door that someone was inside her dorm room. The door was locked and the windows shaded just as she had left them, but deep animal instinct warned her.

This was the "showing" I found in the piece. While I love the premise, I think there is too much telling and all action is halted. You can add details like being on the second floor, by slowing things down. Have her get out of her car, climb the stairs- tons of opportunity to show us the dorm isn't very secure. I think having her know something is wrong from the parking lot is great way to clarify for the reader that this is more than a gut feeling.

The description of the dorm bothers me. I'm not able to form an image of the building you describe and I'm kind of hung up on that even now.

I suspect the animal instinct is a clue to the reader that she's a wolf??? I'd really like to see that developed more.

Thanks for sharing

J. T. Shea said...

More interesting comments. There seems to be a consensus that Liska entered her room and believed an intruder had been there and gone. My guess now is that she is still standing outside at the end of the 250 words and believes the intruder is still inside!

Elle Blessingway said...

Page Critique Monday ... these are REALLY helpful. Thanks to those who keep offering up their pages, and thanks, Nathan, for taking the time to do this!

Picking up on flow, pacing, tense, voice, etc. is a learned skill. These critiques definitely help point us to the places we should be looking to evaluate our own work.

Thanks!!

HJHarding said...

To clarify a few things. In the segment given, she has not yet gone in the room, nor has whoever is inside left. The emotion came about a paragraph or two after this (she's more annoyed than afraid). The rattling through of possibilities is in her head. She does have some animal senses and mind set, but not wolf. Her family is very odd, and she is brought up in that mind set. The dorm is actually based on a dorm I lived in because of accessibility. She also sniffs around to discover who's there in the next page or two. Does that help a few things?

J. T. Shea said...

I was right! Well, ok, I was wrong the first time, but right the second time. You certainly got our attention, H. J.!

Maya said...

Thanks Nathan. These critiques have been really helpful because you notice things that I don't.

Also, thanks to J.T. Shea for the tense discussion counterpoint!

Jenny said...

HJ-thanks for clarifying. I was pretty sure that whoever was in there remained in there...the comment was more towards how tense change can switch up an interpretation.

And I think your clarification also points out the benefit of this exercise--right here, in the opening, is where we should see her sniffing, and hearing her being annoyed, not a page or two later. I don't mean that to sound harsh, but I think that's an important point that I'm going to take away from this exercise for myself. My hat is off to you for being brave enough to put your opening page out there!

The great part of your opening is that it's all there now, just needs some sprucing. We're getting the supernatural animalistic hints through your subtle descriptions (I liked 'den' because it's a nudge toward the animals). I definitely got that her family would play a big part in your story and that something was about to go down.

Nathan Bransford said...

jt-

The tense has to be consistent. If it's the character thinking in the moment that needs to be indicated. Tenses being consistent is sort of like putting a period at the end of every sentence. You gotta do it. If it doesn't read well by changing the tense you don't leave the tense inconsistency in, you change the paragraph to work in the tense.

Tahereh said...

these critiques you do -- the time you take to analyze each line -- your feedback?

this is priceless.

a million thanks.

Claudie said...

I am in complete agreement with Tahereh here. I learn so much just from the way you look at things. It's amazing.

J. T. Shea said...

Nathan, I agree regarding tense consistency, but I believe the page was consistent in tense, given the intruder was still inside the room and Liska was thinking about ongoing events. It seemed obvious to me that Liska was thinking in the moment, therefore I do not believe it needed any further indication in this particular page. Using the pluperfect tense in the last paragraph would be inconsistent unless the intruder was gone. I am far from infallible, and I have the greatest of respect for your professional expertise, but I believe I am correct in this particular matter.

Sea said...

Hey, just wanted to say a big thanks to Emily, Patty, Treeoflife and Melissa for your encouraging words about my excerpt for Naughty Gnomes.

I'm within a few months of sending out my first queries ever so it is very much appreciated. Thanks :)

Treeoflife, yours especially made me smile. I'm glad I didn't make you convulse :)

swampfox said...

HJHarding, good job. With the revisions Nathan suggested, this sounds like the start of a great story.

Dorothy Dreyer said...

Nathan, you're such a superhero for showing us how an agent thinks when he/she reads a submission. This is tremendous help. Thanks!

MaryAnn said...

Nathan, should books be written in the present tense or past tense?

Is there a preference?

Leis said...

HJ, I'd started to make some notes, but reading Nathan's critique, it's already covered.

Such feedback as can be found here is truly priceless. I'm sure it will go a long way toward helping you fine tune this work. The premise -- judging from the brief excerpt -- is certainly promising. Good luck with it!

abc said...

Nathan, I concur with all the sentiments that this exercise is the GREATEST THING EVER. I learn so much.

And Josin, I hope you can make it first soon. I really like those 250 words of yours.

HJHarding: Thanks for sharing this. I don't have much to add to Nathan and the other's comments. It did make me curious to learn more, but I agree that there is a lot of telling and not showing. And the flow just feels off.

Great title!

Anonymous said...

Testing Submishion 1

Anonymous said...

The Wishing Well

Fiction/Young Adult

Bragzdon Hills is a small village in the center of a large forest that is surrounded by mountains. It is spring their and the mountaintops are still snowcapped. You can hear the birds singing and watch baby does leaping through open poppy fields. On the outer rim of the woods, just below one of the surrounding mountains, stood a small cottage. In this little house lived three kind fellow villagers. This is where our story begins.
As the sun rose over the peek of the mountaintop, one of it’s raze poked through Isabella’s window, sharing its warmth with her. Isabella was always dreaming of being a noble ruling over a small kingdom, where lived the most kind, and happy people around. She dreamed of, gowns, social events, jewels and of cores prince charming.
The sun moved higher into the sky causing the beams of light to move around her room, when the light hit her mirror it caused a shocking glare in her eyes, waking Isabella from her daydream. She rubbed her eyes, than she started combing her beautiful curly blonde hair. Isabella was a very beautiful girl, she has milky white skin that is as soft as a peach, a long slinky body, and clear blue eyes, the type of eyes that are mesmerizing. Isabella gracefully got up and walked to the door. When she opened it, the familiar creak from her door announced her appearance into where her parents were. Her mother Catherine was cooking breakfast in the kitchen and her father Thomas was making notes as he read the town scroll, he was gathering information of when the market would open, and what was going to be sold that day.

Linda K. Wandvik

ryan field said...

Love the way you edited this.

Mira said...

As an aside - Al Teter, I liked your paragraph. :)

So, I love fantasy, and this is bunches of fun. We need good adult fantasy writers - so bravo fo you, HJHarding! :)

And Nathan's critique was wonderful. Nathan - I truly appreciate how much effort you put into these critiques. They are so thorough - thank you so much!

So, I completely agree with Nathan's critique, and don't really have much to add, except maybe alittle about the suspense/tension building part.....

First, I like the set-up and the interesting idea of dual personalities. I sense that there is a very fun story here. However, I noticed that the story doesn't grip me enotionally - and it should. Someone inside the house - that's a big deal.

If you could convey more emotion here - what does Liska/Anna feel about someone being inside. Is she scared? Why? Is she not scared? Why not?

There's a detached quality to this that may be intentional, in which case, I'd bring it out even more strongly. She yawned. She checked her fingernails. "This is the last thing I wanted to deal with tonight. What a pain." You can convey emotion through internal dialogue, or through body actions, or through the setting - an owl hooted. A cat brushed through the undergrowth. Either way, what does Anna/Liska feel - or not feel - standing there in front of her door with someone inside her house?

Let me know. :) This sounds like a good story - I'm really curious to find out who was inside the house and what they wanted! :)

Josin L. McQuein said...

Thanks abc :-)

Owldreamer said...

Good premise,potential for exciting dramatic conflict. Suggest reading out loud and seeing where you can add a bit more drama. I think she would be more cautious and dorm rooms are usually pretty secure. Visitors have to sign in to visit. Or is it your plan to have the intruder be an employee or a resident?

Owldreamer said...

I posted a page from my novel Return In Snow,a romance suspense novel for critique Monday next week and I think the computer gremlin may have diverted it to cyber space or I posted it too early or in the wrong place. Pamala Owldreamer. pam_owldreamer@hotmail.com

Al Teter said...

@ Mira, thanks!   :o)
 

Mel said...

Hallo Nathan

I was very interested in your editing of the critique posted on Monday, but which for some unknown reason crosses the Atlantic a day or so later.

As a ghostwriter, I am constantly 'debating' with clients whether the past or present should be used, yet a simple device could help. If it was important to the story to have the protagonist cogitate in the way she did, putting some sentences in italics would allow her to do so without using 'could/would have' plus the past participle.

More thorny for me is the issue of when to use commas in dialogue, and also should one use the verb before the subject?

For example, many writers now use this format, which my clients sometimes insist on but which makes me uncomfortable.

'If I don't get my own way, there'll be hell to pay,' said the bearded man.
'You can do nothing. He will kill you,' replied his wife.

For me, the bearded man finished the sentence so there should be a period (full-stop) after the word 'pay'. Furthermore, I was taught that the subject should come before the verb. In normal speech we don't say 'said the man'in any situation. We always say 'the man said'. So I would write that piece of dialogue as below.

'If I don't get my own way, there'll be hell to pay.' The bearded man said.
'You can do nothing. He will kill you.' His wife replied.

It is only if the format is reversed that I feel better about the comma. As in:-

The bearded man said,'If I don't get my own way, there'll be hell to pay.'
His wife replied,'You can do nothing. He will kill you.'

What do you and the readers think?

Thanks a lot.

Vandersun said...

I completely agree with you on the Lost front. I mean, yeah, it's nice that you explained what those last few episodes were because I've been watching this show for a grueling SIX seasons and THAT was the main thing I wanted to know..."Now, what's all this happy stuff?"

Anyway, enough about Lost.

Mostly, I have a question. Will this page critiquing thing be a continuous event? If so, I really think I'd better get cracking on my 250 words...

Vandersun said...

Nevermind. Stupid question. Seriously, though... I can't stop pounding my fists on things and screaming "Why, Lost...WHY!?"

Anonymous said...

Nathan, do you ever feel like people are kissing up to you?

Don't get me wrong, I'm sure you're very good at what you do, but some of these posts.

Makes me want to say,
"If you're going to kiss my butt, buy me dinner first."

k10wnsta said...

By now, all the positives and negatives of HJ's submission have been laid bare - if not by Nathan, then by the army of helpful commenters above.

So I'd like to touch on a couple of the side issues breached by Nathan's blog post and the resulting discussion:

1) To all the Lost folk - /facepalm - I just don't get the show's appeal. I've tried to. I really have. It's just...I dunno, I guess I always got the impression the writers had no idea where they were going with it all. They may have found some direction once a definitive length for the series was established, but by then the rabbit hole was 3 seasons deep and instead of trying to get out, they just started digging sideways.
Regardless, I'm glad you guys had fun with it.

2) Miss McQuein: you have definitely got 'it'. Don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise. The excerpts of your work I've had the opportunity to read over the past year have all demonstrated a strength of clarity and vocal confidence that's rare to see in online writing communities. Now it's just a matter of turning the earth til you find that iceberg of a story...or the tip of it anyway.

and finally,
3) Parroting what's already been said countless times: I think this contest is a great concept for Nathan's blog. It's a win-win situation - not only does it offer readers/writers invaluable insight but it reduces by one the number of days in the week Nathan has to come up with an original topic to blog about.
That being said, I really think the criteria for entry/winning could stand to be tweaked a bit. It has to be trifling to enter the same submission a few weeks in a row without winning cuz if/when you finally do, it'll be old hat. And what's going on with people submitting entries an hour (much less a full day) after the winning entry is received???
Well, after puzzling on it for a few, I'm afeard I have no suggestions for improving things (thus rendering my criticism utterly useless).

Deepa said...

My thoughts:

I definitely wanted to know who is in the apartment... and that's exactly how u want to make ur readers feel. So that's good.

Some of the sentences were too complex. For eg: The door was still shut, and apparently locked, the windows were shaded just as she had left them, but instinct, deep animal instinct warned her.

When u read quickly - you tend to skip a few words in between and a long/complex sentence doesn't make sense anymore. You then need to re-read it again. So lesser commas might work.

In the first line, you start by talking about Liska. Then you introduce Anna... her human half i guess. But while talking about Liska you mention home, then den. So it confuses. Maybe you could settle for using words like 'den' for Liska and words like 'Home, Dorm' while talking about Anna. And not mix up the two.

Also, when u start off, ur talking about Liska. So when you say 'If that was the case, it would be wise to have Liska ready, even if not immediately apparent' it now sounds like ur talking from Anna's perspective. Otherwise you could just say 'it would be wise to have her ready' and not mention liska again, as we have already established that we are talking about her.

"It could be a thief or an attacker that was focused on her or her current ‘safe’ persona." - I assumed Anna would be the 'safe' persona...

The story sounds interesting, and will definitely have lots of twists and turns =) But since the plot sounds complex, with dual personalities and all, maybe you should have the sentences a little more simpler.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Awee, k10wnsta. Thank you!!!

:-)

Ishta Mercurio said...

I am WAAAY late to this party, but I thought I'd leave a quick comment in case it helps.

First, HJHarding, congratulations on getting your post in first! I can't believe the number of posts that show as posting within a minute. Wow.

I was intrigued by the dual-identity element that you appear to be setting up, and I definitely wanted to know more about that. However, I felt throughout the excerpt that I didn't really know much about the MC other than that, and I wanted more details about how she "knew" that someone was in her dorm room. You have some great ideas with a potential break-in at the beginning and an MC with what appear to be dual personalities, but I felt like I wanted more of that fleshed out a bit with details like what Liska/Anna saw/heard/sensed that made her suspect a break-in, what she wanted to do about it, etc. This was, for me, an example of telling ("Liska noticed instantly...that someone was already inside.") instead of showing, and I think that given the details you provide in the second paragraph, you can come up with some details to show us how Liska knew there was an intruder, and what she felt about it.

Good luck with this intriguing piece, and thank you again for putting it out there for critique!

Sangay Glass said...

From the Romantic Thriller: Kate, Blue Jeans, and a Single Shot
________

Catherine rummaged through the medicine cabinet, tossing her toothbrush and other necessary items in a backpack.

As she reached for the mouthwash the front door opened and slammed. Footsteps tread heavily around the apartment at an alarming pace.

“Catherine!” her husband, Michael shouted.

Terrified, she ran to shut the bathroom door but it was too late, Michael was already on it. She pushed against it trying her best to keep him on the other side, but his hand found a handful of her hair. He yanked, slamming her head against the door jam.

Keeping his grip on the fist full of hair, he dragged her out and to the living room where he shoved her on the couch.

“Do you know how much trouble you’ve caused?” His fist met her right temple, knocking her over.

She drew up her knees up to protect her face and body.

“The police think I killed you.” He went to kick her, but his shoe flew off and landed by her feet.

She cowered, hearing his frustration come to a boiling point as he growled.

“You fucking bitch!” He picked up the shoe and whipped her with it. “Who's been protecting you?”

The intercom buzzed.

Michael stopped and turned to look at it, taking a good step backward.

It gave Catherine an opportunity to run. She got to the door and leaned hard on the intercom button allowing whoever was out there in, knowing she wouldn’t be able to fight Michael off otherwise. Then she prayed it wasn’t a delivery to be left by the door.

Michael was at her back almost immediately as she desperately tried to unlatch the deadbolt, but she wasn’t about to give up. They fought over lock until, success, but Michael hammered her forehead against the door and wrenched her hand away, twisting it behind her back.

“You won't get away this time.” He reached over her shoulder to lock the deadbolt.

Before he could, the door flew open, knocking them both down.

Hit hardest by the door, Catherine’s mouth filled with the irony taste of her blood, forcing her to cough it out in a bright red spray on the carpet.

Though stunned, she sat herself up, and was offered a hand off of Michael who remained motionless staring at her savior.

Jay closed the door behind him. “Do you think anybody in the building heard that?”

“No,” She shook her head “Everyone works during the day.”

“Good,” Jay said, examining her face. “Go wash up. I’ll take care of him.”

Jay reached in the coat pocket of his leather jacket and pulled out a snubnosed revolver. He pressed it against Michael’s forehead.

Catherine backed down the hall, watching, hoping Jay wouldn’t cross the line and kill Michael.

“So you like beatin’ on women.” Jay smiled. “But that’s not how I roll. Take a guess as to what I’ve got planned for you.”

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