Nathan Bransford, Author


Thursday, June 30, 2011

Page Critique Thursday, and the Importance of Choosing Your Perspective

Here's how these critique thingamajigs work. If you would like to nominate your page for a future Page Critique Event, please enter it in this thread in the Forums.

First I'll present the page without comment, then I'll offer my thoughts and a redline.

As you offer your thoughts, please be exceedingly polite and remember the sandwich rule: positive, constructive polite advice, positive.

Random numbers were generated, and congrats to Ruthie, whose page is below:

Title: Beautiful Sweet
Genre: YA Fantasy-ish

Lulu toiled for hours. Her old body struggled to bring her child to the world. And then, the small crowd outside their hut heard the last squeal of pain. Her miracle was here at last.

The midwife took the tiny infant, a triumphant smile spread across her lips. One look though, and her mouth pulled back, her eyes widened.

“What is it? What's wrong?” Lulu asked. She weakly raised her wet gray head from the grass mat.

The midwife's face was smooth and calm again. She silently handed the babe to her mother.

Lulu held the warm, moist baby to her bosom and looked at her daughter for the first time. She knew the reason for the midwife's horror.

Her baby was ugly.

The newborn looked up with eyes that were large dark circles. They were nothing like the beautiful almonds Lulu admired in her husband. Her nose was small and dainty. Not like the wide, round nose that she had. And her hair was abundant, but stuck straight up like the monkeys that chattered in the jungle nearby.

Lulu kissed the tiny nose. “Ama is here, dear little one.” She hummed a melody of love.

The midwife stood, her head tilted in wonderment. After a moment she left to fetch Asoka so he could meet his daughter.

He hesitantly peered around the doorway. His nose wrinkled from the sticky smell of the room. He sighted the aftermath.

“Come,” Lulu beckoned. “See your daughter.”


I think there is some evocative description in this page and it's very in touch with the physicality of the birth - the wet hair, the most baby, the sticky smell. My concern, though is mainly with the perspective.

The novel starts very close with Lulu "Lulu toiled for hours. Her old body struggled..." then zooms way out to an omniscient perspective "the small crowd outside their hut heard the last squeal of pain" then zooms back in to Lulu's thoughts. "Her miracle was here at last."

It's a bit of a jarring way to start a novel because we don't quite have our bearings and we're made to shift our perspective several times in a short span. If it's omniscient that should probably be woven in a bit more naturally and we should have more distance from Lulu, if it's third person limited we should probably stay more closely with Lulu's experience. But having parts that are zoomed in and parts that are zoomed out in the same paragraph can create a disorienting effect.

I'm also a bit concerned about this being a YA novel, because the perspective and sensibility feels very firmly adult to me. Even if this is a prologue or if it's going to jump to focus on a YA protagonist, I'm not sure that the sensibility of this novel feels like a teenage-oriented story.

Lastly, I thought there could have been just a bit more detail in this page to flesh out this world and the personalities of the characters. We have lots of detail about the birth, but we don't necessarily need that because we all know what a birth pretty much looks like. But what about this world? What's in the hut? What are the objects that are surrounding them? I liked the detail of the monkeys nearby, can we get a bit more of a sense of the world we're in? And could we have some clues about the relationships between the characters?

This feels like an interesting world to me, but I think a bit more can be done to smooth out the perspective and bring a bit more life to this setting.

My redline:

Title: Beautiful Sweet
Genre: YA Fantasy-ish
Wordcount: 248

Lulu toiled for hours. Her old body struggled to bring her child to the world. And then, the small crowd outside their hut heard the last squeal of pain. Her miracle was here at last.

The midwife took the tiny infant a "tiny" infant is redundant, we imagine an infant to be  tiny by default unless the author says otherwise, a triumphant smile spread across her lips. One look though, and her mouth pulled back, her eyes widened.

“What is it? What's wrong?” Lulu asked. She weakly raised her wet gray head from the grass mat.

The midwife's face was smooth and calm again. She silently handed the babe to her mother.

Lulu held the warm, moist baby to her bosom and looked at her daughter for the first time. She knew the reason for the midwife's horror.

Her baby was ugly. I found this just a tad confusing, and I think it needs more setup. No matter how ugly a baby is, I don't think many mothers think their baby is ugly when they see it for the first time. If Lulu notices this, I think we need more setup for her mindset and personality before we get to this moment so we believe it. Is she under pressure? Is she worried she's going to have an ugly baby? Is she a strange person? I think more needs to be done to set up this moment in order for it to resonate.

The newborn looked up with eyes that were large dark circles. They were nothing like the beautiful almonds Lulu admired in her husband. Her nose was small and dainty. Not like the wide, round nose that she had. And her hair was abundant, but stuck straight up like the monkeys that chattered in the jungle nearby feels like just a bit too much detail, do we need to know that the monkeys chatter when the comparison is with the hair?.

Lulu kissed the tiny nose. “Ama is here, dear little one.” She hummed a melody of love. I found this transition jarring as well. First she thought the baby was ugly, but now she seems happy. If we're inside her head I think we need a bit more of her thought process.

The midwife stood, her head tilted in wonderment. After a moment she left to fetch Asoka so he could meet his daughter.

He hesitantly peered around the doorway. His nose wrinkled from the sticky smell of the room. He sighted the aftermath found this sentence a tad awkward.

“Come,” Lulu beckoned. “See your daughter.” Can we get more of a sense of her emotions here and her relationship with Asoka? Is she nervous/proud/happy/resigned/etc.?






25 comments:

BP said...

Haha Nathan, your comments are out of this world. ;D

Nathan Bransford said...

Not sure if I know what you mean by that, BP!

Claude Nougat said...

As always, spot on critique! Still, in spite of the jarring changes in POVs, the tale was intriguing and it seems to me that moving it to a standard omniscient 3rd person POV would solve all the problems...

Because, bottom line, it's the story that matters, that makes you want to read on. And here one wants to read on...

But looking at it from a reader's point of view, perhaps this is not the kind of YA novel best suited for early teens.

On the other hand, there are all sorts of YA novels out there, including those suited to late teens and yes, why not say it, adults! Like for example, Zafòn's wonderful dark Barcelona semi-paranormal romances (I say "semi" because they are neither fully paranormal nor fully romances...) And in that case, multiple POVs might be okay, provided POV changes don't occur in the middle of paragraphs, as you so rightly point out!

CourtLoveLeigh said...

I kind of liked that the details were sparse because the ones that were provided told quite a bit (Lulu's gray hair, the almond-shaped eyes, monkeys in the forest).

I would agree with Nathan about the sentence where Lulu sees her baby for the first time. That was the most jarring part for me, especially considering how strongly the midwife reacted. She's probably seen enough births that an ugly baby wouldn't affect her, so I was expecting something truly dreadful... unless of course, there is some detail about this world that we haven't some to yet.

As Claude Nougat said, it's definitely intriguing scene, and if there was more, I would certainly read on! :]

a7c19c84-6f3d-11e0-ba58-000bcdcb2996 said...

*sigh* Nathan is a word God. It's so enlightening to read these posts.

Kayla Olson said...

I don't have too much to add, but here are some things I noticed that no one else has mentioned yet—

"Her old body struggled to bring her child into the world"—haha, I read the word "old" in the wrong context. I was like…uh…as opposed to her new body?! So, yeah. Maybe a simple change like "her frail old body" would help prevent that sort of confusion?

A lot of the sentences seem to have the same sort of rhythm, at least to me. Perhaps try to vary the length and structure in places?

@Nathan—ha, I liked your comment about "tiny infants" being redundant…that said…I was a HUGE 10 pounder, and I'm pregnant with a baby who they told me will be at least 9 pounds. So…I'm not disagreeing that "tiny infants" can be redundant, but if the baby is especially tiny (as opposed to me being especially large, lol), perhaps it's worth mentioning in a way that makes it feel significant instead of redundant.

BP said...

@Nathan Translation - I just thought it was funny how you say everything a reader would think but 10 times more intuitive. I guess 60zillion odd-some years in the publishing biz allows you to put your finger on everything that goes wrong, while still being constructive and positive. I LOVE IT

Scribbling Scarlet said...

I think it sounds interesting. Reading the description of the baby reminded me of Ayla from Jean Auel's Clan of the Cave Bear. The small dainty nose and large eyes, unlike the tribes round noses and her husbands almond shaped eyes. Although Ayla was found, it just reminded me of it.

Anyway, I get the impression from hearing the monkeys outside that it's day but I kept wondering what light is she looking at her baby? Is day light barely streaming in through a hut window or an opening of some kind? Are there windows? Is she looking at her by fire light? I'd like to know more about the setting.

It sounds interesting though. It makes me want to read more to know, why she has grey hair and she's giving birth. Does she have other children? Is this her first birth? Then I wonder will the whole tribe reject her daughter or will they do the opposite and accept her but always pity her? I'd keep reading.

Adele Richards said...

Ooh love what you're saying about too many shifts in perspective, Nathan, must check how much I do the same thing.

I have to say this is the first page critique I've ever read that has left me desperate to read the next part - what's going on? Why does the baby look different? Intriguing.

Very well done. :-)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. We all learn from it.

Dianna said...

I agree with your comments. I definitely found the sentence structure very jarring as they were quite short and could have easily flowed together. Maybe that's an acceptable writing style? For example, "Lulu toiled for hours. Her old body struggled to bring her child to the world." could turn into "Lulu toiled for hours, her old body struggling to bring her child to the world." Also, never forget show not tell! You're telling us her old body struggled but show us she's old instead of telling us, show up how she struggled instead of telling is.

Best of luck to Ruthie!

D.G. Hudson said...

Thanks for sharing your page, Ruthie. You'll learn lots from Nathan's crit, and from some of the comments.

I agree this seems more like an adult book. Any YA who hasn't been a mother already won't like reading the details about birth. Most men cringe as well. Be sure and identify who you're targeting as your audience.

Sequencing of events is difficult, but has to be mastered. Sometimes I think this problem results when we try to write the book as if it were a movie (since we've all been spoonfed some type of video most of our lives). Sometimes I lapse into that as well.

Keep working on this as it has potential, but maybe not in the way you intended. If you do want it to be YA, you may need to make the necessary changes.

Good luck!

D.G. Hudson said...

@Scribbling Scarlet - I too was reminded of Jean Auel's description of Ayla being different from those who found her. I wondered if this setting is prehistoric or just historical or even alien?

We need more setting details.

Priya G. said...

I think the concept was good, but when I began to read, I wasnt sure where I was or what time frame this was in. I think the first paragraph should set the 'bearings' of the reader straight, so that sinking into the plot comes naturally.
Good luck, Ruthie!

Matthew MacNish said...

Personally I like the line about the baby being ugly, because it was completely unexpected, and it was the main thing that made me want to read more. As in "what would cause that to need to be pointed out? Something interesting must be going on here."

I do agree with Nathan though, that it might work better if it was put a little differently. I got the impression that the ugliness was the opinion of the third person narrator, not the mother, but it's true that isn't quite clear.

If that is actually the mother's opinion, it would be helpful if you could clarify why she thinks that, and what it means for our characters.

Scribbling Scarlet said...

Wow Ruthie, I hope you're not too overwhelmed by all this feed back. Kudos to you for putting yourself out there!

I look forward to reading the rest of your story some day!

Cassandra said...

What Nathan said, especially about needing more context. From the midwife's reaction and a whole paragraph to say "her baby was ugly", I was expecting something extreme. We're told that Lulu admires her husband's almond-shaped eyes, which suggests that such eyes are unusual, since people don't generally "admire" things that are commonplace. The baby's not having the desirable feature might be disappointing, but would not having something that most people don't have anyway make her "ugly"? Similarly, a nose that's smaller than normal, rather than larger, doesn't seem all that shocking, as long as it's not actually missing. Nor does the fact that her hair sticks up.

Actually ... that detail pulled me out of the story. A newborn less than a minute old is going to have plastered-down wet hair, not a fluffy corona. Likewise, the midwife's job is only half done the minute the baby appears, yet this one seems to have disappeared. Maybe I'm too picky, but these details interrupt the story for me.

That said, this opening is compelling, and clearly leaves all of us wanting to know more. Which is, of course, the point.

lora96 said...

I'm going to need to know if the baby is "ugly" as in a supernatural creature or as in homely. Also, like the redline comments said, the mother needs to have some foreshadowing as to her relationship with the father--does she know he'll adore the healthy baby or is she more "oh crap this kid is hideous he's going to be mad"?

Mira said...

From BP: "...you say everything a reader would think but 10 times more intuitive".

Boy that is so true. You are so gifted, Nathan. You have an unerring instinct and verbalize the crux of whatever feels off and verbalize it succinctly and clearly. It's so impressive and helpful.

Aside from the POV issue, I especially agreed with what you said about this feeling more adult than YA. I appreciate that alot - it rang true!

I also want to congratulate Ruthie for being chosen and for her courage. I really liked the "hook" in this story. It would have kept me reading to find out what the problem was.

I did want to share my thoughts on one thing - the "tiny" baby phrase. Keeping in mind that I also love adverbs, a part of me liked that phrase. Thinking it over, I think the meaning of that phrase changes depending upon the POV.

In omniscient, I think the adjective is redundant. In third person limited, though, I think it can give the reader an intuitive sense of how the protag is feeling in a very quick way. The protag took the baby and felt how tiny it was is a longer way to say it.

I could be wrong, I just wanted to share my thoughts.

Thanks so much, Nathan, word God. That has a ring to it! :)

Kristin Laughtin said...

Many people have mentioned that the line about the baby being ugly is jarring. This is because in everything that follows, it seems like Lulu is proud and loves her baby anyway, but we don't see much of her thoughts. She notes some of the baby's features, but to me, at least, they don't seem that bad. If this baby is truly homely, I think different descriptions are needed. And if it's a case where Lulu loves her baby anyway, we need to see more of her thought process, something like, "but it didn't matter; she was here and she was hers" and so on. (I do like, though, that judging from the mention of monkeys and some of the physical features, that this doesn't seem like a first world setting.)

I also agree with Nathan that this doesn't seem like a YA opening. My guess is that the baby grows up a bit and becomes the protagonist, and if that's the case, I wonder if the birth scene should be handled differently. Backstory infodumps can be tricky, but perhaps something like, "When (baby) was born, the midwife had recoiled in horror. (Baby's) eyes had been huge and round rather than elegant almonds, her nose had been small instead of wide and round..." and so on.

And if Lulu is the protagonist, I don't think many YA readers want to read about an old woman as their main character. Something to consider.

I do really like the hints of setting we get in this one, though.

Diana said...

There are some evocative descriptions in this page. I can see the action unfolding as I read.

What I have trouble believing is that a woman old enough to have an old body and completely grey hair is still young enough to have a child. Lulu sounds to me like she is in her early 70's. Which is about 30 years past childbearing age. Without a really good explanation of why a 70 year old woman is having a baby, I wouldn't read the rest of the story.

If Lulu is in her 40's, then I suggest finding descriptors which suggest that. Take a good look at women in their 40's, they don't look "old." I got carded for alcohol on my 42nd birthday and I've never been botoxed.

Lauren B. said...

I assuming this is the birth of the MC, and is really set-up/backstory and we'll jump to her more grown soon. If that's the case, then this actually feels more MG than YA or Adult to me, but maybe it's just me!

The Pen and Ink Blog said...

I thought your comments were right on

Jo-Ann said...

It's a tried and true way to begin a novel: birth of the protag. It's an acceptable start for a YA novel, because the birth scene would strain credibility as far as any reader who's been in that situation. I'm assuming the author has neither given birth nor attended one. A YA audience would overlook it.

Firstly, how would the crowd outside know it was the final squeal? Surely the silence would be more telling, or (better still) the newborn's distinctive cry?

It takes a lot to shock a midwife as far as babies are concerned. Ugliness wouldn't cut it- most are relived there's a heartbeat and no obvious deformities. Anyway, newborns often have purplish skin (some even dark blue - and survive), their heads can have odd shapes and their faces can be squashed (all due to being forced through a narrow passage). Their bodies are streaked with blood and vernix, and boys' genitalia look ridiculously disproportionate (not that the latter would apply to your baby, but you get the picture). Newborns aint pretty.

It's healthy for newborns to scream when they take their first gasp (no scream = no breathing) but when screaming their eyes are screwed shut, so I dont see how anybody could tell much about the shape of the baby's eyes within the first few minutes of life.

A problem with pronouns here:
"Her nose was small and dainty. Not like the wide, round nose that she had."

Whose nose was dainty and whose nose was wide? I'm assuming Lulu has the dainty one, but I could be wrong.

I'm relieved that Lulu didn't reject her infant, and I'm wondering how baby's odd appearance will affect her when growing up.

Keep going author, but do some research - borrow a home-birthing DVD and you can see all the gory details!

W.G. Cambron said...

This post brings up great points. I think this might help me with my own writings. Thank you.

Related Posts with Thumbnails