Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Page Critique Tuesday

Page critique! Page critique! My kingdom for a page critique!!!

Actually it's free.

You all know how this works at this point, but slightly changed rules:

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. Instead of updating the post later with my thoughts and comments, this time around I'm going to put my thoughts and comments in a new post. This will hopefully make it easier to keep track of if you're reading in a feed reader
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.


UPDATE: THE EXCERPT!

Thanks very much to the Screaming Guppy for sharing:

Title: Hound in Blood and Black
Genre: dystopian fiction

Part 1
The first time I met Kumari, she smelled of gunmetal, blood and death. Her purpose, through chance and circumstance, became to save my life.

I hated her.

Chapter 1

Last tank of gas, she thought as the engine spit out a black cloud before picking the Jeep back up to speed. It meant one thing: last chance to make a catch. Last chance to eat, drink. To win.

Last chance to stay alive.

“Harder!” Kumari screamed over the howl of the battered engine. It revved as Bastion punched the gas pedal, dust and pebbles spraying the old army Jeep in a peppered graffiti. Driven by the wind, coarse bits of the world clawed her cheeks and scratched the surface of her shades. She adjusted the bandana across the lower half of her face.

Despite the murky air she saw her quarry, clear against the horizon.

“Left!” she shouted. The Jeep veered hard to the side, tires skidding and jumping over the rocky desert. Kumari caught herself with a hard foot to the wheel well, keeping her balance in check while the vehicle sped across the plain. Her prey, a humanoid, stumbled as the Jeep cut in front of its path. “Damn it, Bastion. Don’t run it over!”

The Jeep jerked again, this time to the right, spewing more broken earth into the sky. Bastion yelled something back at her, but his words were stolen by the wind.

Her throat was dry. Only daybreak, and already hot as hell.






38 comments:

The Screaming Guppy said...

Title: Hound in Blood and Black
Genre: dystopian fiction

Part 1
The first time I met Kumari, she smelled of gunmetal, blood and death. Her purpose, through chance and circumstance, became to save my life.

I hated her.

Chapter 1
Last tank of gas, she thought as the engine spit out a black cloud before picking the Jeep back up to speed. It meant one thing: last chance to make a catch. Last chance to eat, drink. To win.
Last chance to stay alive.
“Harder!” Kumari screamed over the howl of the battered engine. It revved as Bastion punched the gas pedal, dust and pebbles spraying the old army Jeep in a peppered graffiti. Driven by the wind, coarse bits of the world clawed her cheeks and scratched the surface of her shades. She adjusted the bandana across the lower half of her face.
Despite the murky air she saw her quarry, clear against the horizon.
“Left!” she shouted. The Jeep veered hard to the side, tires skidding and jumping over the rocky desert. Kumari caught herself with a hard foot to the wheel well, keeping her balance in check while the vehicle sped across the plain. Her prey, a humanoid, stumbled as the Jeep cut in front of its path. “Damn it, Bastion. Don’t run it over!”
The Jeep jerked again, this time to the right, spewing more broken earth into the sky. Bastion yelled something back at her, but his words were stolen by the wind.
Her throat was dry. Only daybreak, and already hot as hell.

Melinda said...

Title: TOUCH
Genre: YA paranormal romance

1. Seth
I was halfway between the school and stadium, waiting for the crowd to thin, when I saw her. Somehow out of all the faces I never spoke to, I always noticed hers.

That familiar expression was there. The one I recognized because I felt it so often myself. Lonely, but resigned to the loneliness.

Tonight it was mixed with something else. Frustration, I thought.

It made her seem vulnerable, fragile in a way the subtle sadness didn’t.

I expected her to head into the stadium, walk within a few feet of where I stood. I braced for that. But she turned away, went back across the parking lot. Not to a car, not even into the school. She just kept walking, right out to the sidewalk.

I didn’t realize I’d moved too until I was halfway across the lot. Sometimes the pull was like that, out of my control.

But this wasn’t that, or not just that.

This was curiosity and concern. This was me being stupid, crossing lines.

I stopped, clenched my fists, reminded myself what carelessness could do. Then I followed her anyway.

I couldn’t talk to her, couldn’t know her, but I could make sure she got wherever she was going okay.

2. Holly
Sometimes it seemed like my life was one big dance, only the choreographer forgot to give me a part. That was how I felt that night, when I couldn’t find the pre-game barbecue, couldn’t find
anyone – stuck on a stage, alone, with nothing to do.

Eric said...

OLDFANGLED
Black Comedy/Horror
Chapter One

Grisly. Horrific. Baffling.
Those were the grave adjectives the nightly news anchors sprinkled throughout the top story of the eleven o’clock broadcast. The hype was appropriate for a change. Another bizarre murder had taken place. Carl Petnoy was oblivious to the late-breaking report, however, as he napped in his Barcalounger through the entire segment.
“Be safe,” the bottle-blonde live on the scene cautioned before sending it back to the studio.
“Good advice,” her hair-plugged male cohort behind the news desk agreed.
Twenty odd minutes later and the telecast was wrapping-up. In closing, the Channel Seven bobble heads briefly revisited the night’s top story, once more promising new details as the story developed. Then, like flipping a switch, they tossed aside their overly-rehearsed gravitas in exchange for a final bit of chirpy banter before they were played off with a blaring orchestral score.
As was all too often the case, Carl startled awake to the consequences of leaving the television’s volume up while he dozed. The musical crescendo threatened to trigger his tinnitus. If that happened the result would be a warbling screech in his ears that would leave him dizzy and imagining a drunken and tortured electronic song bird caged in his skull. Thankfully, however, this time he was spared.
He clapped violently to turn off the television. Too many claps. The apartment’s lights blinked out instead. A pain shot through his forearm. He was old. Pain was usually shooting somewhere. He ignored it.

Ermo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
out-totheblack said...

A high, piercing shriek broke through Dell's dreams. He fell out of bed landing on the hard wooden floor. The shriek didn’t stop. He could hear his family yelling in alarm through the thin walls of the room; running foot steps from the next floor up sprinkled plaster dust on his head. Cold air, bitterly pungent, whistled through the cracked planking around the windows. “Change storm!” Voices cried out from the street. Lightning cracked and the ground rumbled up through his thin body.

“Everybody, to the safe room! Quick, hurry!” The voice of their warir leader yelled above the siren. Dell scrambled up and grabbed a ratty patched blanket with one hand and his little brother with the other. Theo, woken by the alarm, added his baby cries to the noise. Dell reached the main door of his family’s rooms at the same time as his parents and siblings. Twelve families made a mad jumble into the small common area of the building they shared. Fire flies encased in globes dimly lit the room; windows rattled in their casings calling attention to the lightning outside; the lightning painted the white hair of the running Nef red, green, then yellow.

“Move!” Dell jerked his gaze away from the storm and dragged his crying little brother after the group, through the kitchen and down narrow steps. They crowded in last amongst the stacks and barrels of food supplies organized along the walls.

Theo kept crying. Dell pulled him closer and wrapped him in the blanket.

Adventures in Children's Publishing said...

Darn, you all are quick. And I was hoping to have a critique opportunity since I can't enter the one we're having on Thursday. Congrats Screaming Guppy!

The Screaming Guppy said...

Oh cool!

Thanks in advance for the feedback, everyone! :)

out-totheblack said...

Opps, looks like I was 3 minutes behind. Forgot to post the info in my excitment.
Splintered Kingdoms: Change Storm
YA Fantasy

Becca said...

I liked screaming guppy's opening lines. (Kind of reminds me of something I'd see before)

Once we got to chapter 1 I lost interest. I found it hard to follow what was happening. And who is Gastion? Is that the "I" person in Part 1? Where is the I person? This confused me. The word choices were strong through. I think this holds a lot of promise.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Yowza. You posted early!

For the winning post:

I'm confused about the blurb after "part 1" Is this a sub-heading for the book section? An epitaph? It sounds good, but I don't know why it's where you put it.

I'm also not sure why a tank of gas equates to a last chance to eat/drink. It would make sense if it was one of those "last chance" stops, but in context I find it confusing.

The mention of "humaniod" is interesting, and sets this as something out of the ordinary, but I'm still confused. Are they hunting the humanoid to eat it? If so, why not hit it? (I realize both questions are probably answered after the first 250 words).

It's intriguing, but I wish I knew what was happening.

Ermo said...

Damn you Screaming Guppy. I think I would have beaten you if I had been logged into Blogger already.

I also liked the first line. I was sad to leave that person to go to some other scene. The action was good. I never know quite what to picture when someone says "humanoid." I like the last line as well except for the cliche. Find another what to say/show how hot it is at daybreak and I think it fits in nicely with the rest of the setting you've already created. Good luck with this.

out-totheblack said...

Yay Screaming Guppy! You, of the quick and mighty refresh button.

Ermo said...

Oh and Josin - congrats on your win of the chase/suspense contest. You're a terrific talent.

Marsha Sigman said...

I like this.

Bastion is the guy driving and her partner. Obviously gas is really hard to come by. She may not know when she will get another tank or if she ever will so I get that.

I think that first sentence is the humanoid. I would definitely read more of this and it caught my attention right away.

Amanda said...

I like starting it with the excitement of the chase scene. I guess the "I" is the humanoid they are running down?

I thought this piece was well written, the only thing I really had trouble with was "driven by the wind, coarse bits of the world..."

Since this is fantasy (or seems to be given the words used) when I read that line, my mind translated it literally - The world was breaking up? A different world was streaming by? Oh, dirt!

Good Job Guppy.

Anonymous said...

I didn't have a problem understanding what was going on here -- I was along for the ride.

But this makes me wonder -- How do we balance the demand for action with the need for context?

Do we just drop the reader into a scenario and hope that something (catchy character name, good grammar, something else) keeps the reader interested?

Thermocline said...

I, too, was a little confused by who is talking in Part 1, but the last line intrigued me. I really like the sentence about "course bits of the world." That whole paragraph had some great descriptions. The last line threw me, though. Murky air seems at odds with seeing something clear against the horizon.

You did a good job of throwing us right into the action.

Amy DeZellar said...

This pulled me in right away. Rather than confusing me, that feeling of being dropped in the middle just intrigued me. Well done!

Ty said...

Love the names of your characters and the desperation of this scene. (Plus any story with a banged up Jeep automatically earns points from me!)

Took me a couple read-throughs to get a clear picture, so here are my sticking points:
1) transition between the "I" of Part 1 and the "she" of Chapter 1 was a little fuzzy/jarring
2)some descriptions seem a little off, such as the Jeep being sprayed by the pebbles (it made more sense if the Jeep's tires kicked pebbles out behind it, but not being hit by it)or the ambiguous "coarse bits of the world"
3) If you're purposefully being vague about the reason for the chase (which I like), then I appreciate being grounded in a setting first. I'd mention the desert plain first and the state of the Jeep second. Gives it a nice wide focus to start that you can then narrow in on your characters, rather than the other way around.

I'd be interested in seeing how this scorched earth dystopian chase ends up!

Unrepentant Escapist said...

The thing before the chapter 1 break doesn't do it for me. I think the first line in the actual chapter is stronger. But I wouldn't put the book down for it or anything.

I really like the entry, other than "last chance to win" makes me think of games, which makes me think of Hunger Games. I assume that Kumari is the "she" from the first paragraph. I don't know why you want to conceal her name and potentially confuse us, though. Saying that her target was a humanoid makes me wonder what in the heck she herself is. Who names a kid "Bastion?"

Mom: I know! We should call him Tower.

Father: No, Wall!

Mom: No....BASTION!

That said, I want to read more. I'm a sucker for good post-apoc lit.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I can see some world and feel the urgency of the characters. There's minor conflict between them, also good. My feeling is that "Part One" bit is unnecessary.

Two things struck me: They have quarry. I would expect her to be processing details about the quarry, things she would notice that either lead to capturing it or losing it. This also gives valuable info to the reader. Also, I'm suspicious of "last tank of gas." For me, at least, that spurs a ton of questions about your world and the validity of it. This is not all bad, though. It makes me curious, and curiosity is a good thing for a reader to experience at the start of a book.
I think in general, it's a teensy bit rushed and would benefit from more details. But I would read on to find out more. Good job on putting it out there and good luck.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

that would be some OF THE world. Sheesh.

Adventures in Children's Publishing said...

SG,

Love Part 1. Great external and internal conflicts both promising lots of compelling tension. Nicely written.

You've also set the stakes immediately in Chapter One. However, please identify the "she" in the first sentence of Chapter 1 to orient the reader. Perhaps identify the engine as the "Jeep's engine" so you can use a more precise word choice later in that sentence in place of "picking up."

"Harder" is confusing or insufficient. Perhaps just simplify to "Faster" since the reader is still trying to get into the story. (Intentionally leaving out the pun here, do I get points?)

The description of the dirt flying is very vivid, but it diminishes my credibility as I don't see where she is sitting that would allow the debris to hit her cheeks. Usually would hit behind her, no? I spent some time trying to picture that instead of reading on. I love that you gave us her description so actively, but it doesn't quite pay off for me.

Is it "her" quarry, or "their" quarry?

I'd like to see her make it clear Bastion turns the Jeep to the left instead of it turning itself. It would emphasize the subordinate relationship, which I assume you are trying to build, and reinforce the additional character in the reader's mind.

Keeping her balance in check isn't as active as the rest of your description.
Don't bury the dialogue that starts with "Damn it, Bastion."

Identify "Her" at the start of the last paragraph.

Love the last line, but it lowers the tension of the chase. It's a nice juxtaposition of mundane thoughts against a hideous act, but if it's her last opportunity to eat and drink that day, wouldn't she be hyperfocused on catching the humanoid? It's a question of what you want the reader to take away here, but thought I'd mention it. I don't mind the cliche here, because I am assuming it is very carefullly intended to set up a particular visual or symbol. Just be cautious to substantiate it. Overall, a great job!

Martina

Anonymous said...

I'm curious, Nathan, does the 250 word rule exclude or need to include things like chapter title, part one, prologue, etc.?

Kristin Laughtin said...

Not sure I would have listed the genre as "dystopian". I can see plenty of objections along the lines of "There is no 'dystopian' section in the bookstore!" Why not just stick with "fantasy" or "science fiction"? (There wasn't enough here to tell which one this would end up being.)

The short little snippet labeled "Part 1" is interesting, but doesn't seem connected to Chapter 1, nor really long enough to stand on its own as a prologue. The change from first to third tense is a little jarring as well. I'm a generous enough reader that it probably wouldn't discourage me from reading, but I'm trying to think in tough agent-y terms.

I agree with the comments about your use of description. I also generally like being dropped in media res, so you've got that going for you!

mk_moore said...

Wow; that's fantastic! I feel so inadequate. I kind of like the disjointed opening; I think the fact we don't know what's going on makes it more intriguing. I'm not sure if the first bit works. I kind of like it, but it may depend on how it's formatted in the actual text. The second sentence is a little awkward.

"It revved as" I think this clause detracts from the immediacy of the sentence. Starting it "Bastion punched" is more more action-oriented.

"Despite the murky air she saw" you need a comma after air

I love the writing in general, but one thing that bothers me is the gratuitous use of clauses. A lot of your sentences could really be two. Also you have some superfluous words that could be cut. "The jeep jerked again, this time to the right, spewing more broken earth into the sky." >>"The jeep jerked to the right and spewed broken earth into the sky."

I love this opening; it really dragged me into the story and made me want more.

Amethyst said...

Congrats Screaming Guppy :)

You definitely have a great hook and your descriptions of the action scenes are good. You can definitely picture the scene.

The only issue for me was the disconnect between the hook and chapter one. I was thrown off by the switch from first person to third, only because I wanted to know more about the narrator in Part 1. The first part is also very straight to the point while the 2nd part, chapter one, gets a little dense with description/adjectives.

But overall, I am intrigued by the story and very interested to see where you would go with it.

MJR said...

I liked this opening. I'm assuming the part 1 comment is from the person (humanoid) that Kumari was trying to kill, but ended up saving instead. So I'm intrigued as to why Kumari didn't kill him/her...(unless I've got it wrong...)

Jen Sadler said...

This 250 word limit is rough. I always want to see more, more, more! I love the action at the beginning, and I am very curious as to the basis for the rest of the story. I do want to know right away, though, who this Kumari person is, who the I person is, and where they are. Great images! I can totally see this opening scene playing on the big screen...even with a voice over to in introduce the PART 1 intro. Nice.

D. G. Hudson said...

The Part 1 segment sets up the scene & keeps me wondering who is talking.
Some of us like an appetizer before the main course.

I like the intro but wondered it there are distinct parts of the story (Part 1, Part 2, etc)? I'd suspect the people who have a problem with this type of intro probably don't like prologues or unique beginnings either.

Congrats on the fast fingers, Guppy! Suggestion: I found the 'coarse bits of the world' needed more specificity -- what kind of bits of the world - dirt, cinders, etc?

I have a vision of 'Road Warrior' reading this, whether intentional or not. Humanoids - I like them (not human? android-ish?) You have me interested.

Delia said...

I had no trouble understanding or following. I presumed that everything you hadn't explained would be explained in the rest of the scene. I liked that you dropped the reader in the middle of a chase and (presumably) let the details trickle in later. Nice work.

MVT said...

I liked this, I had no problems letting my imagination take me along with your writing. I assumed the beginning was probably a quote or subheading after the "part 1", and I deduced that the opening chapter was Kumari, though I cant argue that you would be better served naming Kumari in the opening line rather than using "her".

The first and second paragraph sets the pace. Knowing that its her last tank of gas, and thus her life on the line, adds urgency to the scene to come. I had no problem following this.

I can see that the third paragraph may be harder for people to follow. The pebbles are spraying the undercarriage and backside, and I take it that "Driven by the wind, coarse bits of the world clawed her cheeks and scratched the surface of her shades." refers to windborne dust and dirt that they are driving through. I didnt have a problem following along.

The fourth paragraph is a bit confusing. Why is the air murky? You need a better description here. When I read it I thought it must be rising heat, like what you see on a blacktop road or in a desert. Am I wrong?

The fifth paragraph is great. I now know the setting a bit better, a plain. I agree somewhat that you may want to add this information earlier, in the first or second paragraph. The bit about her prey "the humanoid" definatly grabbed my interest.

I liked the rest of it. I would agree with what others have said, though, and you may want to detail the setting earlier (including where she is at in the jeep. It seems, in the second to last paragraph, that she is in the back of it). I had no problem with it, though. It took a page to set the tone and the setting, sounds fine to me.

The Editor Devil said...

I love novels that start with action (I just put down a NY Times author whose book starts with 5 pages of backstory -- shame on her). Anyway, love the action and pacing. It's the balance that got me. We hear a lot about the weather and Jeep. Cool context/setting info, and helps us feel like it's a dystopian piece, but it doesn't completeley ground us with characters.

We have to experience someone we can connect with/relate to, for better or worse. Put in a few lines that keep the focus on the characters, not the devices (hmm, that just might be my next blog -- not letting your devices steal the limelight from characters), and I think you'll get the story's balance back. And remember, if you play a device (Jeep) or setting too strongly, you are making them into "character", so the reader will expect these to be very present thoughout the rest of the story. (Like the whale in Moby Dick, or the weather in Perfect Storm). Whatever is the subject of your focus, becomes the subject of the reader's focus. So if you don't intend this result, be careful.

Best of luck! Great writing. I would read further...

pensees said...

Congrats on the fast fingers, Guppy!

One note of confusion I had, requiring me to reread the first paragraph, was that I assumed Kumari was the one driving. When it turned out to be Bastion driving, I had to adjust.

Good luck to you with this! You've received lots of great feedback already, which should be very helpful to you.

Cyndi Tefft

T. Anne said...

I love this, Guppy! I take it part one is somewhat of a prologue? I don't mind it. It sets the tone. I def. felt the angst and I'm curious about these humanoids.

ryan field said...

I tend to lean more toward the subgenre of ecotopian fiction. But I like to see that there are people out there writing dystopian fiction.

Nathan Bransford said...

My critique is now posted here.

Terry Stonecrop said...

I liked the first lines, then the action that followed and I like dystopian fiction, so it looks good.

I'm coming in after Nathan's critique. Reading his critiques are so helpful.

Best of luck with it, Screaming Guppy.

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