Tuesday, May 31, 2011

First Paragraph Critique - Cloaked in Shadows by Kenny

Remember that *SHINY NEW FEATURE* I talked about? Well, it has actually come into existence! In case you don't know or don't remember, I am now offering to critique other writers' first paragraphs and post them here. You can email paragraphs to me (brigidrgh@gmail.com) or if you have a Goodreads account you can post them in this thread.

Before you submit, you might want to read this post on what I think makes a good story beginning (and revise your paragraph accordingly). And try not to go over 100-200 words. That might not seem like a lot, but I try to be very thorough. Also, I will always get your approval of my critique before I post it. :)

So without further ado, I bring you my first critique ... This paragraph is from fellow Goodreader Kenny, whose story is called Cloaked in Shadows. I hope all ye writers enjoy this and find it to be useful.



"I woke with a start and the dream shattered, falling to oblivion in tiny image fragments that made me want to reach out and catch them. I needed to know what I had dreamed. What I had seen. Something told me it was important to figure this out. So I searched my mind for the scenes. I came up into the light again frustrated and fruitless. I was right in saying my dream had shattered...because it did. I could not find it anywhere inside me. I dislike a lot of things, but one of the things I loathe the most is forgetting. And so I told myself that I must remember."

What works:

1. In this first paragraph, you've already created a strong mood. I'm guessing something supernatural is going on here; usually acknowledgment of dreams implies that, and these seem to be "unusual" dreams, too. It's mysterious, and it makes the reader wonder what the person dreamed about and why it's so important for him/her to remember the dream.

2. The image of the dream "shattering" is strong and specific. It's striking how you describe the dream breaking into pieces and how the narrator tries to "catch" them.

3. The reader can tell the narrator is frustrated, and it's something we can all relate to. Everyone's had trouble remembering a dream before. It's a very aggravating feeling, and you describe it well––how the dream seems to have "shattered", how the narrator tries again and again to remember it, only to fail.

What could be improved:

1. "I woke with a start and the dream shattered, falling to oblivion in tiny image fragments that made me want to reach out and catch them."

--> There's a parallel structure problem here. That is, the two clauses don't quite match up with each other. The subject of the first clause is "I" ("I woke with a start ...") but the "and" sets off a different part of the sentence, in which the "dream" is the subject. The dream "shatters" and "falls to oblivion in tiny image fragments". Since the subject is now the "dream", the end of the sentence should read "that made me want to reach out and catch it" (not "them"). However, I assume the narrator wants to reach out and catch the "fragments", so this idea would probably be more clearly expressed in another sentence.

I would recommend cutting this sentence in two. "I woke with a start and the dream shattered, falling to oblivion." Then in a second sentence, be more specific about the fragments––what about them makes the narrator want to catch them? What are they doing? Dancing? Glittering? Strong verbs are key! "The fragments were [verb]ing in a way that made me want to reach out and catch them."

2. "What I had seen."

--> This is a fragment––that is, it's not a complete sentence. You're probably aware of this and using the fragment for effect, which is fine. As long as the writer knows his/her grammar rules, he/she is free to break those rules intentionally if he/she knows what he/she is doing. Having only read the first paragraph of this story, it's hard for me to judge whether this fragment is needed. I'm not saying it should necessarily be taken out, but I don't think it needs to be there since "what I had dreamed" already implies that the narrator has "seen" something.

3. "Something told me it was important to figure this out."

--> Try to avoid the phrase "something told me", for two main reasons. One, it's vague. What is it that makes the narrator think that remembering is important? Does some specific feeling or sensation make the narrator feel that way? Two, it's telling rather than showing. It seems like the author stepping through the narrator to tell the reader that this is important. In this case, I think you could take out the sentence completely; it's already clear from the rest of the paragraph that the narrator is struggling to remember the dream, implying that it's important to him/her.

4. "I was right in saying my dream had shattered...because it did."

--> Should be "because it had"

5. "I dislike a lot of things, but one of the things I loathe the most is forgetting."

--> This could be more specific. Everyone dislikes a lot of things. I would suggest giving particular examples of what else the narrator dislikes. Maybe something like "I dislike [blank], and I hate [blank], but what I loathe more than anything is forgetting." Not only would it be more specific, but it would tell us more about your narrator. Which brings me to my next point ...

6. We don't know much of a backstory here. No, I'm not saying that the first paragraph should be an info dump, but you could show a lot more about the narrator. In the very first paragraph, the reader likes to have an instant connection with the main character. And "readers" might include literary agents. You may or may not be thinking about publishing quite yet, but it's something to keep in mind for the future. Literary agents have to read a lot of query letters and excerpts every day; some even skip reading the query letter and go right to reading the excerpt. If they don't feel that instant sense of originality and strong character, they might reject the writer solely based on the first paragraph.

So, you want to be clear about who's narrating the story. A boy or a girl? What age? What time period is it? What is the narrator's personality like? You don't necessarily have to include all these things, but at least acknowledge a couple of them so that the reader gets a sense of who's talking. Right now, all we know is that the main character has strange dreams.

Furthermore, the "waking up from a dream" beginning is kind of a cliché. You want to start off your story with something that hasn't been done before, because that's something else that will peak the reader's interest. Everyone has weird dreams sometimes––so what makes this story different? Why should the reader continue reading to find out more?

7. You could cut down on repetition a bit. In the one paragraph you use "shattered" twice, and out of the 9 sentences, 6 begin with "I". (Also some with a conjunction followed by "I"––i.e. "And so I...")


Over all, you've set the mood well and created some strong imagery/emotions, but here are some things you could consider:

- Parallel structure
- Fragments
- Being specific
- Establishing a narrator/setting
- Sentence/word variation

Good luck with your writing endeavors! :)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

5/17/11 - Teaser Tuesday

Hello there! It's Tuesday again ... and I haven't posted a teaser in quite a while.
So, here's a bit more of Rage, since it's really the only thing I've been writing lately. Enjoy! ;)


I couldn't bring myself to believe that Neal would follow me all the way here, into the forest.

But there he was, walking toward me, and coming to a stop only a few feet away. It was then that I saw, he was carrying his crossbow in one hand, wearing the familiar quiver of arrows on his back.

“Back to your old ways, I see,” I said, since he didn't bother to greet me.

He shrugged. “Looks like it.”

“What do you think you're doing here? You shouldn't be here.”

“Neither should you.”

“What are you talking about? I'm the Sacrifice!” It was the first time I'd said it out loud. I'm the Sacrifice. The words nearly made me cringe, made my blood go as cold as winter.

“You know what I mean. No one should be here,” Neal said. “And that's why I need to put an end to it.”

I finally lowered my knife. “You can't be serious.”

“I'm going with you. I've always said I would kill the Monster, and now is my chance. Our chance.”

“You're not bringing me into this … this plan of yours.”

“You can't go through the forest alone.”

“I have to!” I burst, silencing him. “This is the way things are, Neal. I was chosen as the Sacrifice, and now I have to make this journey by myself.”

“How do we even know the Monster is there?” Neal shot back. “Everyone who's gone into the forest––everyone who's not a Sacrifice, that is––supposedly gets killed by demons. How do we know the Sacrifices are any different? What if they never reach the Monster at all? You used to say these things yourself, Natasha …”

“And what? I don't say those things anymore? I'm not myself?” I said. He was silent. “What right do you have, to tell me who I am?”

Neal sighed, shaking his head. “I've known you a long time, you know. You don't know how much I notice. In fact, you think I'm an idiot.”

“What does that have to do with anything? No matter how observant you are, you don't know anything about me. I'm not the same person I was three years ago.”

“I know,” Neal said, with a quietness that surprised me. “You really went into the forest that night, didn't you? That's what changed you.”

I couldn't see his face clearly in the dark, so I couldn't guess how serious he was being. “You didn't believe me,” was all I could manage to say.

“I don't think I ever said that,” Neal said. “I didn't know whether to believe you or not. But you were … different, after that. And I started to believe it was true.”

“Then why did you stop talking to me?” I demanded. “Why did you keep treating me like you thought I was crazy?”

I saw Neal turn his head away, although I still couldn't read the expression on his face. “I … don't know. It's so complicated. I was still trying to decide why you'd told me, of all the people you could have told.”

“I told Brandon,” I said. I didn't mention telling Mother Dearest; something about saying it felt wrong.

“But not your mother?” said Neal. “Not Michelle? Not anyone?”

“I didn't think you would believe me.”

“But I do.”

I sighed, wondering how much time I could afford to waste. I wondered if the Monster was waiting for me, whether he'd kill me if I didn't come at the expected time. At the thought, an invisible tight fist seemed to clench around my heart.

“Well,” I said, “if you believed me then, then believe this now––I know things about the forest, things I can't explain. Ever since I came out of it alive, I haven't been able to get rid of all these … these strange feelings. The forest does things to us, to our minds. It's dangerous, and it's unpredictable, and it has a certain … balance. And I'm afraid that if that balance is disturbed, it could mean terrible danger for the Village. Whether that's the Monster's doing or not, I don't know.”

“But what you're saying is …”

“We shouldn't break his rules,” I finished Neal's sentence for him. “No one ever has, and we don't know what the consequences are.”

“What if there are no consequences? What if, all along, we've had a chance to defeat him, but we're too afraid to try?”

Even though I wanted to cry, I could feel a bitter smile tugging at the corner of my mouth. “You know, you're the only Villager I've met who would dare to say such things.”

“I could say the same about you,” he admitted.

I swallowed. “But I still believe there's a reason for the Sacrifices, and I'm going to find out what it is.”

“On your own.”

“That's the way it has to be. Trust me, you should stay here. You're more needed in the Village than out here. Someday, your dreams about killing the Monster will seem like … like silly fantasies, to you. You're not thinking this through.”

“But I've been thinking, since the moment you were chosen for the sacrifice, and I …” He trailed off, sighing. “No. All along, I knew you were going to react like this.”

“What? React like––”

“Let me finish. I figured it couldn't hurt to try, but I had a feeling you'd say no. You wouldn't want me to go with you. But as much as I hate to admit it to myself … and I hate saying it now … I also knew, all along, that you're probably better off alone. And I––I don't mean that the way it sounds. I guess what I'm saying is … I trust you, Natasha. I trust to to take care of yourself, to survive.”

“And if I don't?”

“You will. If anyone can defeat the Monster, it's you.”

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Long Time, No ... Blog

Hey guys!

I realize it's been well over a month since I last blogged. How did that happen? Guess I've been pretty busy. I apologize. But, it's good to be back and blogging again!

If you didn't notice, I got some new "pets" on my page. Check out the fishies over there --> Cute, eh? :)

Notable things that have happened in my life since I last blogged:

- I decided I am going to Hampshire College this fall. Woohoo! :D
- Primarily I've been focusing on writing Rage. I'm on about page 80 now and a little past 45,000 words, although I'm a bit stuck ... Hopefully I can get myself out of the corner I've written myself into. I also got an idea for a new story, which I'm having difficulty explaining to people because I'm not entirely sure what it's about yet ... Let's just say, it's about ballet and sibling rivalry, and yesterday I read a 30 page guide on amputations. (Oh, the things I do for writing.)
- I didn't make it to the semifinals of ABNA, and my Publishers Weekly review of Edge was ... not so positive, but it had its useful tidbits. The reviewer called my book "video game esque", "lukewarm", and "dotted with stock characters" among other things. However, he/she said the writing was "consistent enough to maintain interest" and that there was "potential for a riveting story here in this manuscript"––so, at least there's some hope. I saw the reviews of some other manuscripts that were far less encouraging, so I'm grateful mine at least suggested there's a chance it could be a good story. The review will be helpful once I start editing Edge again––although that probably won't be for a while since it's not my primary focus. And I'm glad I at least got a good review of Walking Shadow last year.
- I've been thinking of adding something *NEW* to this blog. (Besides the fish...) But I would need some help from you guys. See, I've been thinking I'd like to post critiques of other writers' first paragraphs, if anyone is willing/interested. I could do it once a week, like a "First-Paragraph Friday" or something. I think it would help to blog more about the editing process and show it in a more hands-on style. So, if anyone would like a critique feel free to email me! (brigidrgh@gmail.com)

Hope everyone is having wonderful lives and success in their writing. I will try not to fall off the face of the Blog-World again anytime soon. :)