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  1. #1

    Sample for critique

    Hello everyone. I\'ve got experience writing non-fiction, but I don\'t really enjoy it. I love narrative fiction, but writing it intimidates me. I always feel \"ashamed\" of my work, and often turn back to more comfortable non-fiction. Also, I tend to be more comfortable with characterization than describing events.

    I did a little writing exercise to try to get over my habit of sabotaging myself. I chose a genre that\'s automatically cheesy (zombie horror), and then chose a type of scene that\'s very hard for me (an over-the-top fight scene).

    I was wondering if anyone could give me some pointers on things I can improve. Mainly, I just need to practice writing a lot more, but I want to practice the right things, not the wrong things. I\'m allegedly \"great\" at academic writing, but the standards for that are completely different than the type of writing I really want to do.

    -Write something that is easy to read, exciting, and makes no attempt to be literary
    -Give the feel of a scene from cheesy horror fiction (Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer) without crossing the line into completely stupid

    Areas I\'m Especially Curious About:
    -Is this too long? (Felt like this scene went on a while, and a character even lampshades it.)
    -Is my writing still boring?
    -Did I use too many compound/complex sentences for easy reading?

    (Also, this is my first post. I looked all over for rules, but couldn\'t find anything except no copyrighted stuff, no sex, no starting flamewars. So I hope it\'s okay that there\'s some mild language and some violence against zombies in this. If there\'s a more detailed list of posting guidelines, please let me know.)

    Any comments at all are welcome, and I promise I won\'t start an argument even if you say \"It\'s absolutely worthless and you should never write anything again.\"

    The hatchet tumbled end-over-end in a beautiful arc for several long seconds, then sank into the zombie\'s forehead with a disgusting cracking sound. The zombie twitched a few times, then fell to the ground, joining a half dozen of his slain comrades. The lone remaining zombie stumbled over the fallen monster, but regained her footing and continued to walk forward. She looked to be in her mid-forties and wore a torn suit, and her short hair was soaked with blood. Her face was a mask of dark bruises, and she had a large bite mark on her exposed left arm, but was otherwise intact. A recent convert to the ranks of the cannibal undead, she was faster and slightly smarter than her fallen friends.
    Standing almost fifty yards away, neither Evelyn nor Nicole were particularly concerned. Evelyn paused a moment to admire her incredible luck with the thrown hatchet, and briefly considered making a cheesy one-liner, but she couldn\'t think of anything good. Besides, Nicole had watched her best friend die a few hours ago. Evelyn rarely bothered with tact, and she enjoyed pissing people off, but this seemed like a bad time to show off.
    Nicole looked around the parking lot, making sure no zombies were sneaking up on them. Fortunately, it was mostly empty, and she and Evelyn had already thoroughly checked for zombies in the two remaining cars. She was a bit impressed with herself for being able to stay calm, and she knew it would help her survive. In the movies, the people who panicked always got eaten first. Of course, people in the movies usually didn\'t get rescued by badass monster slayers like Evelyn. Nicole assumed that Evelyn had been doing this for quite some time, and was confident she would be okay if she let the experienced professional handle the situation.
    The zombie moaned slightly and picked up her pace. Evelyn checked the trunk for more weapons, but was disappointed. There had been a tire iron inside (and it was now embedded in a twitching zombie\'s heart), but the spare tire was missing. Evelyn was left with a plastic tire gauge and an old hubcap. She had a brief, amusing image of herself stabbing the gauge through the zombie\'s eye, but was not thrilled about the idea of getting showered with tainted blood. Instead, she picked up the hubcab, aimed at the zombie\'s neck, and threw.
    Nicole expected the hubcab to sail through the air as perfectly as the hatchet and decapitate the monster, but she was disappointed when it simply flew a few feet, caught the wind, and veered into the ground, rolling across the pavement. Evelyn cursed under her breath, picked up the tire gauge and studied the zombie for a moment, and tossed it away. Nicole watched with fascination as the monster slayer knelt next to the car and began quickly unscrewing the bolts on a tire with her bare hands. \"So, you\'ve got superhuman strength?\" Nicole blurted before realizing that she sounded like an idiot. \"Sorry, I\'ll shut up.\" she added.
    Evelyn pulled the hubcab off the wheel and hurled it at the zombie, trying to compensate for the wind. The projectile missed the zombie by a few feet, and Evelyn sighed. She couldn\'t believe it was taking so long to kill one stupid zombie. It was ruining her image, and she had to do something impressive to make up for it. She took a deep breath, put her shoulder against the car, and shoved with all her might, lifting the car a half inch while kicking off the loosened tire. Evelyn caught her breath, then picked up the tire and turned toward the difficult zombie.
    The zombie was now less than ten yards away, and Nicole had already started backing up, while keeping an eye out for any more zombies sneaking up behind her. She was careful to check the ground near her feet for crawling zombies or holes in the ground, since she had seen plenty of idiots in the movies forget to watch their step. She watched with relief as Evelyn hurled the tire and connected with the fresh zombie\'s face, apparently snapping her neck. The cannibal fell to the ground, her body shuddering briefly before falling still.

  2. #2

    Re: Sample for critique

    My apologies for the paragraph formatting being messed up, and the / marks near ' and ". They weren't there until after I submitted the post.

  3. #3
    sam albion

    Re: Sample for critique

    for me, high drama and action scenes neccesitate shorter sentences. For the sake of tension. Nobody has time to be introspective while zombies are gnawing on their dead friend's arm. (Hey, I'm no published author...yet... lol).

    I reckon, personally, that your writing has some merit- I'm making the assumption you have knocked this out quickly, haven't spent months poring over it, polishing, refining, et cetera. I am also making the assumption that you are young. Late teens, early twenties. I read it all the way through, and liked the overall style; if it was an entire novel, and you had spent months on it... maybe...

    I wouldn't say it was boring. I liked the idea of it myself.

    The structure bits- already mentioned.

    Does the scene go on too long? Not really, although the scene does contain a lot of information and not much action, if that makes sense. The character is introspective, and while that's good, introspection should come... on the journey to the zombie killing, or after... You can get around that, though, by having the characters talk to each other instead- there's two people here, but we're only appreciating the scene from one person's perspective. A few well chosen lines of dialogue would keep the scene dynamic.

    Just my opinion... worth nothing...

  4. #4
    martin shaw

    Re: Sample for critique

    Hi, my input is... you can't use words like beautiful when you're watching a hatchet about to be buried in to a zombies head, it throws you straight away (excuse the pun).

    You do have a voice, but it's lost in so many easy mistakes like the one above.

    Oh, and near the end...'The cannibal fell to the ground'

    Their zombies now aren't they?

  5. #5
    Sam Fletcher

    Re: Sample for critique

    1. I didn’t get a sense of realism or real danger from this page of text. I think zombie stories need to believe in themselves. Even if the reader knows that it’s hokey, the story should still take itself seriously. So the zombies need to be a real people, who once had real lives. Killing one, though necessary, shouldn’t be easy. That zombie was somebody’s sister, somebody’s daughter, somebody’s mother. Killing a zombie is killing a human being who has been infected.

    2. I never like inanimate objects to be the focus of the attention. In the first sentence the hatchet seems to throw itself. There are two people at the beginning of the story and the action should focus on them rather than the hatchet. Either the action should be about the thrower, “Evelyn hurled the hatchet toward the zombie, watching it tumble end over end before striking rancid, decaying flesh.” Or it should be on the recipient of the action, “The zombie stumbled as the hatchet ripped through the side of his face and deep into his brain. He clawed at it with decaying fingers, even as his eyesight faded down to nothing and he faltered headlong into the dust.” People trump things when telling a story.

    3. You switch point of view three times in about 700 words. First, there’s no way to know that the zombie is a new recruit unless we are hearing her thoughts. Then we see the action through Nicole’s eyes as she’s watching Evelyn. Then we hear Evelyn’s thoughts because she’s annoyed that she’s having such a hard time killing this one zombie. Other’s disagree with me, but I think the scene needs to be told from one point of view. It’s possible to switch point of view if you know you are doing it and have a good reason for doing so, but I think it should be a rare exception.

    4. There’s quite a lot of telling rather than showing. Since you are used to technical writing you will have a tendency to tell and not know you are doing it. For example, the last line of paragraph one, “A recent convert to the ranks of the cannibal undead, she was faster and slightly smarter than her fallen friends.” You are telling us that she is smarter and faster rather than showing us. Showing is something like, “The zombie crouched low to the ground and then sprinted forward, leaping over the fallen body of her comrade. Evelyn jerked back in surprise, wondering how any zombie could move that fast.” In this sentence we see the speed rather than having you tell us about it.

    5. I think action sequences need to be sparse, pointed and lived in the moment. In the middle of this zombie battle your heroine spends a lot of time remembering the past when she should be focused on the moment. There shouldn’t be enough time for her to sit back and watch which way the hubcap flies or to remember how she killed some of the other zombie’s. This moment right now is a life and death battle. She should be looking around for things she can throw. She should be telling Nicole where to go and what to do. She should be feeling the weight of her arm and the exertion of throwing something heavy. She should be panting with the effort. I sometimes go through the motions I want my characters to do so that I can feel what they are feeling.

    6. This is pretty decent writing that needs some tweaking around the edges. Remember, the purpose of this forum is to criticize and to accept criticism. So, I’m doing my part by being critical. :-)

  6. #6

    Re: Sample for critique

    I wrote a long reply and it disappeared when I hit post, and I didn't have the sense to Copy it before posting. Oh well, lesson learned. It was probably too long for a reply anyway, so I'll summarize.

    Thanks for the helpful responses. This is the first time I've written any narrative fiction in my adult life, so I'm ecstatic that it got a response other than "totally worthless." The lessons I take from this are:
    1) Kick the technical writing habit of telling, not showing
    2) Stick with a perspective, not switch constantly
    3) Long characterization should probably not happen during a quick burst of action
    4) If I'm going to describe a fight scene with zombies, the zombies need to be more interesting and active than zombies in movies and video games.
    5) Less thinking, more talking

    I'm 27, but I pretty much repressed my creative side and a lot of my personality for quite some time, so yeah, as a writer I'm probably the mental equivalent of late teens, early twenties.

    This took me about an hour to write, and I looked over it a few minutes for glaring errors ("hubcab" instead of "hubcap") before posting. Normally, I can write a bit faster, but I'm still at a point where I have to force myself to write narrative and I use any excuse to get distracted. (It's stupid, but I'm a little ashamed when I write narrative, because I'm too self-critical. I actually had to close my eyes while writing the first few sentences.) That's part of the reason I chose a really cheesy subject that's hard to write. I need to get over my fear of writing stuff that isn't very good.

    I'm hoping that with a few years of practice, I could learn to write passable narrative fiction, and not be so self-conscious.

    Thanks again!

  7. #7
    Sam Fletcher

    Re: Sample for critique

    This is already passable, it just needs to become excellent.

    After 30 minutes this forum is no longer in active mode, so when you push the post button all it does is refresh. I usually write my forum posts in MS Word so that if the forum eats it all I have to do is copy and paste it again.

    Fiction does take a lot of time to write and it's hard work for everybody. You're forcing the blank page to become something. You're engaging in an act of creation. So, when you write expect it to be difficult. It will get some easier but not a lot. The point of writing isn't the creation process but the end result. When you're able to hold a typewritten page in your hand and say, "this came from me" then you're a writer.

  8. #8

    Re: Sample for critique

    Sam Fletcher: Thanks for the info about the forum, and thanks a LOT for the encouragement. I'm glad to find that narrative writing is mostly like other writing, in that it seems to rely more on work ethic than inherent talent. (Talent exists, but I used to think it was the main defining factor, and get discouraged when I didn't seem to produce amazing works of fiction on the first try. I've grown up, but it helps to hear some reinforcement.)

  9. #9
    Lea Zalas

    Re: Sample for critique

    I liked it. You have the beginning of a good story. Keep at it.

    But Sam, I have one disagreement. Writing is not always difficult. Sometimes it is, but there are times when the story will just flow out, not in perfect form, but as a good base for something excellent after editing and proofing. That's how it works for me anyway.

  10. #10
    Cindy Kay

    Re: Sample for critique


    I came to fiction from newspaper reporting and remember that afternoon when it finally sunk it that I was not only allowed to make things up, I was supposed to. Before that I kept trying to figure out what source to call to discover what happened next. It is certainly scarey and freeing to move from one to the other.

    Also you are exactly right that the work ethic, deadline pressure, organization skills, word and grammer mastery, all carry over in spades.

    It really helped me when I began seeing the scenes as I wrote. When I could watch a conversation, an action, a character and then work on capturing the action and mood in words. Really fun. Have fun with it. Save the torchurous bits for editing.

    I'm just going to take your first sentence and critique the hell out of it to give you a sense of what I see you can work on as you proceed. But please don't torchure yourself with all the little craft things; focus on seeing and feeling your scene and then on how to get words to bring them to paper.

    "The hatchet tumbled end-over-end in a beautiful arc for several long seconds, then sank into the zombie's forehead with a disgusting cracking sound."

    When you begin with the hatchet, be sure that's what you want us to feel the action of the sentence through. In our minds we'll follow that hatchet. An inanimate object as a focus can be great, but it's a little arty so you'd want to maintain that arty vision flow.

    You use the word "tumbled," which has a quirky, whimsical feel. Doesn't match the other word-feels you've chosen (beautiful, disgusting). If I wanted an arty feel to go with the hatchet, I'd probably stick with beautiful, but change tumble and disgusting to match the feel of juxaposition with the gross act and beauty, which could work when you consider the character's persepctive. She's gonna find killing zombies beautiful, right.

    Wouldn't pick a verb that required an explaination and one that doesn't quite fit. End over end, is more a cartwheel than a tumble, which is more chaotic and mundane. Certainly not beautiful.

    This "for several long seonds" bit. Seconds are seconds by definition. I know what you're trying to do here, but it's not working because you haven't introduced a character through whom we could accept a perception break in time. Often it's better to give the reader a sense of abnormally extended time through extended description -- it's blade flashing through shadow and sun, sounds of a helicopter thumping air -- that's not good, but the idea of actually slowing readers down and forcing them to feel and see the hathet is often more effective to give a sense of slowed time than just saying it.

    On to the use of "then." Be very careful when you write sequencing words. If you're writing clearly and effectively, you should rarely need them. They have a junior-high writing quality. Read the sentence without the "then." No meaning difference, but certainly a more sophisticated feel without it. Especially true if you're going for a visual, arty kind of mood here. Plopping a "then" in smacks the reader out of the mood and into a oh-we've-got-to-keep-track-of-event-sequence mood.

    Disgusting? Do you really need to waste space on such an obvious description? You've got a hatchet sinking into a forhead. Don't waste descriptors on the obvious. Then "cracking," I'm thinking you want a word that pulls us into the feel of a thick blade penetrating a skull. Cracking words better for breaking against a hard surface. If you had a baseball bat meeting a skull, cracking would be great. But you want a penetrating feel. Would rather know that is barely makes a sound, that after all the drama of the blade in a beautiful arc, it sinks into the zombie's forehead with a whisper or a slurp. If you can get a word in there that has a wet feel, like slurp, even better as we're reminded of soft brain tissue, fragility. That's disgusting all on it's own.

    If you just wrote,"crack," wouldn't that mean you didn't have to say sound? If you cut out all the useless words, you'll free your reader's attention for more interesting things. Never waste a reader's time, not even on one word.

    Would it be better to let readers see a man rather than a zombie in that first sentence? You say zombie in the second anyway, and leaving it at man adds an ick factor if only for a moment.

    When you begn with an object focus, you want to stay with it until you give us an equally strong second focal point. Leave the reader's eyes on the hatchet, and transfer them through the hatchet to your character. So show us what the hatchet does when the man twitches, and have the woman stumble over it, stay hathet-focused until we see Nicole. Have her focused on the hatchet to make that switch.

    I know that's a lot, and don't worry about it all. Just see the scene as you write, feel the mood of it, think of your words as a camera lense, guiding readers through the emotional and sensory landscape of the scene. Once you can free yourself to do that, so much more falls into place on it's own. At least from this nonfiction writer's experience.

    Good luck. You've got a lot of great stuff here.

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