Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Page Critique Tuesday: Be patient with description


If you would like to nominate your page for a future Page Critique, please enter it in this thread in the Forums!

Also, if you'd like to test your editing chops, keep your eye on this area! I'll post the pages and queries a few days before a critique so you can see how your redline compares to mine.

Now then. Time for the Page Critique. First I'll present the page without comment, then I'll offer my thoughts and a redline. If you choose to offer your own thoughts on the page, please be polite. We aim to be positive and helpful.

Random numbers were generated, and thanks to hkate12, whose page is below:
Title: Undecided
Genre: YA Sci-fi 
A light fog rolled off of the rising water, twisting around their ankles as the trio picked their way along the crescent-shaped shore of the bay. Malachite Ko stepped carefully, his eyes alert. He’d been shown pictures of the bodies that washed up on the shores of the beach after high tide nights like this: skin bloated and turned a sickly shade of grey, eyes eaten out by carrion fish or pecked away by birds. Adventure-seekers, Lieutenant Envoy called them, or suicides. Either way idiots hoping to ride the three-moon waves. Desperate to do anything for death, or adventure, or fame.  
And somehow Malachite was supposed to stop them.  
“Anyone there?” Malachite called, shining his flashlight into the top of one of the gnarled, five-foot-thick palms that covered the beach. The perfect hiding spot, if anyone actually was hiding. A cluster of small purple blossoms shriveled up under the light.  
No one answered.  
“New-Comer must be louder,” said Officer Borghild, her voice breathy and deep. She stood a few feet ahead, watching him from over her shoulder. Catlike pupils narrowed in her shining orange eyes and moonlight from the three converging moons reflected in her double rows of gleaming, pointed teeth. Otherwise, her grey skin and black clothes blended seamlessly into the darkness. “If you want to scare the unintelligent men from the trees, New-Comer must be louder.” 
“Fine. Anyone there?” he said again, louder.
This page does one important thing an opening needs to do well, which is establishing a mood through solid, grounding description. There's some really good detail here that establishes a spooky otherworld setting -- the fog, the bodies that might be washing up, the blossoms shriveling under the light, Officer Borhild's eyes... all good stuff.

If there's anything to critique here, it's that there are moments that feel just a tad rushed and smushed in. This is best illustrated by the opening sentence, which I think tries to cycle through a few too many thoughts at once (fog, who are "they," oh it's a trio, now we're getting a description of the shore, and that it's a bay.), as well as in the description of Borhild's eyes and teeth.

My other main concern: although this is just the briefest of excerpts, the voice doesn't really sound YA to me. The sensibility feels adult, especially the assessment of the type of people who wash up on shore. That doesn't sound like a teen's perspective to me.

Still, for the most part this page succeeds at establishing a character in a strange setting, and I'd be curious to read more.

Here's my redline:
Title: Undecided
Genre: YA Sci-fi 
A light fog rolled off of the rising water, twisting around their the trio's ankles as the trio they picked their way along the crescent-shaped shore of the bay. Malachite Ko stepped carefully, his eyes alert. He’d been shown pictures of the bodies that washed up on the shores of the beach after high tide on nights like this: skin bloated and turned a sickly shade of grey, eyes eaten out by carrion fish or pecked away by birds. Adventure-seekers, Lieutenant Envoy called them, or suicides. Either way, idiots hoping to ride the three-moon waves. Desperate to do anything for death, or adventure, or fame. [Doesn't feel like a YA sensibility] 
And somehow Malachite was supposed to stop them.  
“Anyone there?” Malachite called, shining his flashlight into the top of one of the gnarled, five-foot-thick palms that covered the beach. The perfect hiding spot, if anyone actually was hiding. A cluster of small purple blossoms shriveled up under the light.  
No one answered.  
“New-Comer must be louder,” said Officer Borghild, her voice breathy and deep. She stood a few feet ahead, watching him from over her shoulder. Her catlike pupils narrowed in her shining orange eyes. Moonlight from the three converging moons reflected in her double rows of gleaming, pointed teeth. Otherwise, her grey skin and black clothes blended seamlessly into the darkness. “If you want to scare the unintelligent men from the trees, New-Comer must be louder.” 
“Fine. Anyone there?” he said again, louder.
Thanks again, hkate12!

I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.

Art: Cover of Science Fiction Quarterly, Spring 1942






5 comments:

Hailey said...

Thank you Nathan! Wonderful as always. I read my own stuff way too often to catch that pesky shoving too much into one sentence thing when it does pop up- it's a bad habit of mine I'm trying to get rid of!

One question: the lines you pin pointed as not sounding YA were actually intended to be connected with the previous line (if that makes sense). They're all things said in a briefing or meeting or whatever earlier by the adult Lietenant and are now being remembered/narrated through Mal's POV. Would simply adding a "he'd said" type modifier help with that issue? Or is it a mistake entirely to start with that much adult language? (The next paragraph that is missing from this excerpt hopefully grounds the reader more firmly in the YA pov- Mal starts thinking about how much he dislikes the lieutenant and forming his own opinions about people who may or may not be out in the jungle around him- a different and hopefully more teen-feeling perspective than the lieutenants).

Was the YA voice missing too much from the rest of the excerpt?


abc said...

This is a good one. I can tell the writer has chops. I feel like the story is definitely going to go some interesting places. I'm in agreement with Nathan--maybe slow it down a bit. But some great descriptions and mood setting!

JOHN T. SHEA said...

I did think Malachite Ko's thoughts might reflect the briefing where he'd been shown the photos. Mind you, I was not absolutely certain he was the story's POV teenager, particularly since there are aliens involved. Years ago I read a great SF novel, whose name and author escapes me, about a group of alien teenagers. The girl had natural WHEELS instead of legs!

As I said on the Forums, multiple moons are a stock-in-trade of SF. My WIP has two. But the surfing possibilities never occurred to me!

Thanks for this, Hailey and Nathan.

Nicole Montgomery said...

I loved this! Very atmospheric, and grabbed me right away. If it isn't 100% vital that you market it specifically YA, this can easily fit into the general Sci Fi category. YA readers will still read it, but you'll also gain those of us who tend not to read things marketed specifically to YA. Something to consider. I'm an adult sci-fi reader, and would *definitely* keep reading, without question, but I'm not a YA reader, and I'd miss it if it's primarily in that category. Lovely opener!

Nathan Bransford said...

Hailey-

I think there are a couple of ways to handle it. The way you propose (distancing the recollection from the protagonist with a "he said") could work, and I think another way could be to have the character react to the recollection in their own voice. I think it's a good opportunity to begin introducing the reader to the main voice, instead of waiting until later. Does that make sense?

Related Posts with Thumbnails