Nathan Bransford, Author


Monday, June 23, 2014

Page critique: Don't overdo it


Page critiques are back!

If you would like to nominate your page for a future page critique, please enter it in this thread in the Forums. I also am offering private critiques and consultations.

First I present the page without comment, then I'll offer my thoughts and a redline. If you choose to offer up your own thoughts, please be exceedingly polite and remember the sandwich rule: Positive, constructive advice, positive.

Random numbers were generated, and thanks to sherifredricks, whose page is below:
Screams of the terrified echoed through the corridors of Rhycious's mind. Shouts from warriors and cries of agony ebbed away as the pounding of his heart crescendoed in ritardando. 
He gripped the rough hewn table in front of him with both hands, forcing himself to concentrate on the picturesque view of the Boronda Forest beyond the kitchen window. Bloody fallen soldiers lay scattered in his reminiscence like the deadfall they were. He and his team of medics couldn't keep up with the gruesome carnage. Body parts flung high in the trees, left to hang, picked clean by scavengers.  
Rhy shook his head and blew a hard breath. Night had fallen hours ago and no Wood Nymphs attacked his fellow herdsmen. No war existed between the races any longer.  
He was safe from the horrific scenes his memory served.  
Sweat dampened his forehead and Rhycious fought the flashback's tidal wave with even, regulated breaths. Gritted teeth unclenched, one facial muscle at a time, his back straightened with determination, vertebrae by vertebrae. He hadn't started the battle that lasted nearly two centuries, but the clashing races damn well made it his emotional baggage.  
He relaxed the anchored grasp of one hand and raised his wrist to see the time. The tremor in his arm caused the digital numbers to dance before his eyes. Pan, help me. The god who reigned over terror and panic must be having a good laugh on his account.
This author can clearly write. But sometimes, even when we sense that we can write well, that can feel like it's not enough. It feels like you should push yourself toward originality with your prose. And that's great. But it's so important not to push yourself too far.

One of the biggest writerly pitfalls is to try to say something simple in a convoluted way. It's one thing to stretch your prose when you're trying to grasp at elucidating a complicated concept. But when you're taking something relatively simple and trying to say it in an unordinary way it can confuse the reader and take them out of the story.

In this case, when the verbiage is pared back you can really see how the story takes shape:
Terrified screams of the terrified echoed through the corridors of Rhycious's mind. Shouts from warriors and cries of agony ebbed away. The pounding of his heart crescendoed in ritardando
He gripped the rough hewn table in front of him with both hands, forcing himself to concentrate on the picturesque view [describe what this view literally looks like] of the Boronda Forest beyond the kitchen window. Bloody fallen soldiers lay scattered in his reminiscenc memories like the deadfall they were. He and His team of medics couldn't keep up with the gruesome carnage. Body parts flung high in the trees, left to hang, picked clean by scavengers.  
Rhy shook his head and blew a hard breath. Night had fallen hours ago and no Wood Nymphs attacked his fellow herdsmen. No war existed between the races any longer.  
He was safe from the horrific scenes of his memory served.  
Sweat dampened his forehead and Rhycious fought the flashback's tidal wave with even, regulated breaths. Gritted teeth unclenched, one facial muscle at a time, he his back straightened his back with determination, vertebrae by vertebrae. He hadn't started the battle that lasted nearly two centuries, but the clashing races damn well made it his emotional baggage ["emotional baggage" feels out of place in this world].  
He relaxed the anchored grasp of one his hand and raised his wrist to see the time. The tremor in his arm caused the digital numbers to dance before his eyes. Pan, help me. The god who reigned over terror and panic must be having a good laugh on his account.
There is a good moment happening here. The writing doesn't have to work too hard to bring it out.

 Art: Dempsey and Firpo by George Bellows






13 comments:

tiffany said...

Nice edit, Nathan. You show that less can be more!
www.bluebesos.com

Jaimie Teekell said...

Is opening with vague bad memories as gimmicky as opening with a dream? I suppose it depends on what follows this, and I dislike when people get too critical of the first few paragraphs anyway.

Heidi said...

Interesting that both you and Mary Kole posted about the same thing on the same day. Words to live by, though.

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

I'm trying to keep in mind the sandwich rule, but it's tough. I'm afraid I can only offer an open face sandwich. My congratulations, as ever, to someone able to take on and complete the task fo writing a novel, creating something out of nothing by the mere act of wrestling words.
But I've gotta say, what words! This reads like someone swalled a thesaurus, then regurgitated the contents onto the page. Writing simple declarative sentences that paint a picture is an art. Every time you send the reader scurrying for a dictionary to show off what a great vocabulary you have, you run the risk that they won't come back. I couldn't make it to the bottom of the page. It was impossible to care about the character, because he was buried under a thick and pointless blanket of verebiage.

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

swallowed, not swaled. I type faster that I think.

Jaimie Teekell said...

Hmmm. I don't agree, John, though I can see why you're thinking that. I don't think it's the words as much as, what Nathan pointed out, the arrangement of them that makes them less easily digested. There were no words I didn't recognize and I'd say the vocabulary is well within the grasp of an adult who reads.

Can you loan me the problem of typing faster than you think? Lucky. :)

Anonymous said...

The great thing is that this really just seems to need line edits, which are the easiest form of "fix" to do. We have a character who has a big problem, and there seems to be plenty of conflict.

I agree: lose a lot of the modifiers:

in ritardando
picturesque
fallen
gruesome
regulated
Gritted
with determination
anchored

Delete.

Susie said...

There is an exciting moment being explored here. I agree, with a few edits and some simplification of the language, the prose could really soar. Not being musically inclined myself, I had to look up the phrase "in ritardando." Since it seems to mean a decrease in tempo, it actually makes more sense in this passage than the use of crescendo, since the images/memories were already fading away. Crescendo actually seems less clear to me: why would his heartbeat be still gaining momentum at this point? I wonder too, if starting a novel with a memory is akin to starting with a dream--you have to hook and situate the reader twice. I like the last line...I could see Pan laughing. I wish the writer good luck with the story.

Denise Covey said...

I like the edited version much better. Too many convoluted phrases snapped me out of the original story. It is tempting to over-write. That's why we have critique partners!

Great story though!

wendy said...

I think what the author was going for was an other-worldly, archaic feel - except for the reference to the digital watch. I tended to slip into over-writing for scenes set in fantasy locales as well. The author can definitely bring to life what he or she imagines, though. I agree with all the changes made by Nathan.

Jacqueline Howett said...

I might have brought in the "bloody fallen soldiers" in a lot sooner for a better visual.

Great edit, Nathan!

Sweet Venom said...

In other words cut down on verbosity!

I love flowery language, but I've learned through the editing process that less is more.

Anonymous said...

I was confused with all the switches of time and place. We're in Rhy's mind, then in a house with rough-hewn furniture, then outside with body parts hanging from trees. Then he wakes up and none of that is where we are.

As a result, I didn't get a good picture of any of it. Also, I felt that you had to spend so much time describing the rapidly shifting scenes, that you didn't have enough time to show plot and character.

I'd recommend sticking to one scene.

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