Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Page Critique Tuesday: Write for people on Earth, not for people in your novel's world


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 Torno, whose page is below:
Title: Prisoners of Laurasia: The Children of Thor
Genre: YA Fantasy  
Lawson had found a way to hide his burns.
He scratched the crimson scars along his forearm. Whenever he looked at them, he had the urge to tear his skin off, like he was just peeling from a really bad sunburn, and underneath would be fresh and smooth. But sunburn only burned the outsides, and Balstifir was in every inch of Lawson; a dormant fire. Every warlock doctor or scientist that had ever lived had agreed on that. Whether the scars could be removed was still debatable.  
Doctor Pox claimed she could wipe any scar or smear from the skin clear. But Lawson’s skin wasn’t covered in pimples or harmless blemishes – it was covered in burns, crusting over him, leaving him in a permanent state of monster. Balstifir with doctors was always promises and maybes, but he was weeks from prison, and promises would have to do. 
Dr Pox’s promises were laid out on Lawson’s bed in the form of a glyphook; a slated warlock projector. Before and after images floated in the air, painting hope for Lawson in the form of various scar removals. He swiped his hand across the glyphook. Above, the images changed to a silent 3-D videogram of burns receding as an odd black sludge spread over a woman’s arms. Repulsive scars were shed, beautiful skin folding over the top.  
“Pause,” said Lawson. 
The videogram froze mid-air on that image – the gorgeous unburnt skin. 
Hiding battle-scars is the act of a coward, said Zen.
When you read an author who has total mastery of their setting, a J.K. Rowling or George R.R. Martin or J.R.R. Tolkien or Anthony Burgess, it can feel effortless and authentic. You feel totally immersed in that world and it feels so real that the characters are living there.

But here's the thing -- all of these writers make things comprehensible to people living in present-day Earth. They're not writing for people living in Hogwarts, Westeros, Middle Earth, or near-future England. Anthony Burgess went the farthest in writing for people in his own world, with his unexplained otherwordly slang, but the genius of A Clockwork Orange is that there's just a learning curve. You quickly get the hang of the slang and there's enough context in any case that most everything is comprehensible.

There are some good elements in this opening page, and I like that you're forced to wonder where Lawson got his burns. You get the sense of a story in motion.

But I'm still not positive what Balstifir is (Is it a disease? A spell? Some body-inhabiting demon?), the clarifying description of what a glyphook is ("a slated warlock projector") isn't really clarifying, and there are other smaller moments where I came away confused. Someone who lives in the world of this novel would understand, but people on Earth do not.

All doesn't have to be explained right off the bat, but when too many of these unexplained moments add up, it starts to exhaust the reader and it feels like the author is holding out on them rather than inviting them into the story, especially as in this case where the physical details of the scene are not established.

Here's a redline, along with a clean version to make it easier to read:
Title: Prisoners of Laurasia: The Children of Thor
Genre: YA Fantasy  
Lawson had found a way to hide his burns. [I found this opening confusing because the next paragraph jumps off to him *having* the scars, not hiding them.]
He Lawson scratched the crimson scars along his forearm. Whenever he looked at them, He had the urge to tear imagined tearing his skin off, like he was just peeling from a really bad sunburn, and underneath it would be fresh and smooth. But sunburn only burned the outsides, and Balstifir was in every inch of Lawson's body;. A dormant fire. Every warlock doctor or scientist that had ever lived had agreed on that [I'm confused by this - Lawson has consulted with every warlock doctor or scientists that had ever lived? And what exactly are they agreeing on? That it's a dormant fire? That Lawson has Balstifir? And what is Balstifir?]. Whether the scars could be removed was still debatable. [Awkward use of passive voice]
Doctor Pox claimed she could wipe any scar or smear from the skin clear [I found the transition to Dr. Pox's... office? slightly awkward. Set the scene, more than just with the projector. Where are they?] But Lawson’s skin wasn’t covered in pimples or harmless blemishes – it was covered in his burns [we know this - either explain more of the why or take the fact that he's covered in burns as a given], crusting crusted over him, leaving him in a permanent state of monster. Balstifir with doctors was always promises and maybes, but he was weeks from prison [Is he going to prison or recently out of prison?], and promises would have to do. 
Dr Pox’s promises were laid out on Lawson’s bed in the form of a activated her glyphook;, a slated type of warlock projector [I still don't know what this is]. Before and after images floated in the air, painting hope for Lawson in the form of various scar removals. He swiped his hand across the glyphook. Above, The images changed to a silent 3-D videogram of burns receding as an odd black sludge spread over a woman’s arms. Her skin shed repulsive scars were shed ["were shed" is awkward passive phrasing] and beautiful skin folding folded over the top.  
“Pause,” said Lawson. 
The videogram froze mid-air on that image – the gorgeous unburnt skin. 
"Hiding battle-scars is the act of a coward," said Zen. [Where did Zen come from?]
Here's the clean edit:
Lawson scratched the crimson scars along his forearm. He imagined tearing his skin off, like he was just peeling from a really bad sunburn, and underneath it would be fresh and smooth. But sunburn only burned the outsides, and Balstifir was in every inch of Lawson's body. A dormant fire. 
Doctor Pox claimed she could wipe any scar or smear from the skin. But Lawson’s skin wasn’t covered in pimples or harmless blemishes – his burns crusted over him, leaving him in a permanent state of monster. Balstifir with doctors was always promises and maybes, but he was weeks from prison, and promises would have to do. 
Dr Pox activated her glyphook, a type of warlock projector. Before and after images floated in the air, painting hope for Lawson. He swiped his hand across the glyphook. The images changed to a silent 3-D videogram of burns receding as an odd black sludge spread over a woman’s arms. Her skin shed repulsive scars and beautiful skin folded over the top.  
“Pause,” said Lawson. 
The videogram froze mid-air on that image – gorgeous unburnt skin. 
"Hiding battle-scars is the act of a coward," said Zen. 
Thanks again to Torno!

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: Fire by Iacrim Arcimboldo






4 comments:

RKeelan said...

This page is Torno's, not mine.

Nathan Bransford said...

Oops sorry, my copy and paste is showing. Thanks, RKeelan!

JOHN T. SHEA said...

Earthlings be damned! This could be a best seller in Laurasia!
But seriously, thanks to Torno and Nathan.

Luxon Arkston said...

Thanks Nathan!

You made some great points. I've spent a few hours this afternoon reading/reviewing my first chapter and trying to make it more earthling friendly.

Cheers,
Torno.

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