HomeWritersLiterary AgentsEditorsPublishersResourcesDiscussion
Forum Login | Join the discussion
+ Reply to Thread
Page 1 of 2 1 2 LastLast
Results 1 to 10 of 16
  1. #1
    d d
    Guest

    Critiques Please ! Come one, come all!

    I am a fan of most any literary fiction (my favorite being historical). I have finished a fair portion of my post-civil war novel and I am submitting the opening scene for critique. A few months back I posted this piece and have since reworked it because I just feel like I am not introducing the narrative/flow in the proper way.

    The opening scene is a bloody encounter that propels the story forward. The pace does slow a bit later on.

    I realize that I have a tendency to write short, descriptive sentences and I am not sure if that is a positive or negative.

    If you have the time, please post a short critique on what you like/dislike. Any suggestions are appreciated. Thanks.

    Chapter 1

    The axe head was hot from splitting logs of a felled oak tree. Will left the tool buried in a stump and shrugged sweat from his sunburnt jaw. Remaining days of summer were few and winter preparations had to be made. Green firewood was stacked in tight rows beneath a craggy willow. Opaque moss hung from the tree, creating a webbed canopy only inches from the ground, burdened by its own weight. Will sat down and allowed his cramping muscles a reprieve from their labor. His knuckles, cracked and red, shone like embers rising up from the back of his weathered hands.

    The first scream came as he reached for his leather flask. It was a shrill sound, resonating in all directions. Silence, then the scream came again, this time unmistakably from the clearing where his cabin stood. He freed the axe and ran for the cabin, leaping over thick roots that lay diagonally across the beaten trail. His legs and lungs burned more out of fear than exhaustion as he exited the woods through a barrier of slender pines. Two horses waited unlashed at the front door. One was a dappled gray, the other a luminous black, their long faces turning to stare at Will as he charged towards them. The horses were slick with the effort of a recent run.

    Will crouched low along the cabin's outside wall, a bank of shimmering dust from the Louisiana earth floated in behind him. He was gasping air in rhythm with his throttled heart as the rough hewn cedar logs filled his nostrils with a pungent odor. Will saw the half profile of one black boot heel resting on the top step leading into the cabin. He tightened his grip on the axe handle until he heard the wood squeak and in one smooth motion he stood up and swung the axe into the wide doorway. The iron lodged into something solid and was pulled from Will's grasp. A man with blood spurting from his neck fell backward into the powdered dirt, his face canvassed red. His jugular vein still twitched and an expanding pool of blood framed his face, his eyes burning holes in the heavens above. Will kicked the man's head aside, picked up the axe and faced the cabin's entrance.

    A smaller foe, dark and sinewy, held a rifle and a coiled length of rope in his left hand. He glared at Will through unflinching obsidian eyes. Their gaze locked, both of them silent, tempting the other with their show of resolve. From inside the cabin came the din of crying children. Outside, the wind had ceased to blow and a stagnant silence overshadowed the clearing. Will chose to make the first move and hefted the still dripping axe to attack. As he shifted his weight to strike, a punishing blow to the back of the head dropped him in a heap atop the fresh corpse near his doorstep.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    An isolated ringing sourced from deep within Will's brain pulled him back into the natural world. Something grisled and musky covered his face when he awoke. He shook his head and the obstruction fell. Will tasted the bitter tinge of his own blood and then he saw the hair. It was hair that he recognized, it was Kora's. Her scalp, so recently removed that Will swore he saw it drawing up as the life seeped from it, lay on his right knee, her golden strands like silk straw draped across his thighs. Will's eyes were forced to survey the room as one of the men who sat behind him jerked his head back and tied a crude rope across his wrinkled brow, fastening him to a dining chair. A second rope was laid across his upper chest, pulled so tight as to burn his breastbone, and a filthy cotton rag was shoved in his mouth.

    Will saw his two children across the room. They were alive, cowering in a corner beside the wood stove whose ember filled belly glowed bright. Kora was laying on her back, her white, naked skull peering up at Will. He bit into the putrid cotton and screamed until his throat ached. The chair rattled with each furious movement of his body. Neither child said a word, they only stared at their mother as if expecting her to rise and finish cooking breakfast, the remains of which sat steaming atop the stove. The dark skinned man knelt down in front of Will and pulled a stag handled blade out of its scabbard. Will felt the steel pierce his skin as it lightly traced his hairline, burning like coarse salt in a wound.

    The one who had ended the earlier standoff sat at a rustic table, his features as stiff as totem. Pushing at the table's edge, he rose to full height. He wore a dark, wide brimmed hat and a vest of unrefined leather. A short wooden club, tapered and polished, was being transferred from hand to hand. Every few seconds the sound of its shaft slapping a calloused palm filled the room. The man's cracked lips parted as if about to speak, but he said nothing; instead grinding the heel of his grimy boot down on Kora's collarbone. The sharp cracking sound of her violated bones cried out for Will to act but all he could do was stare and choke back the bile that crept into his mouth.

    Will clenched his shoulder blades together then rotated his torso in an attempt to break free from his bonds. The only result from his desperate effort was screeching chaos in the cabin. A throbbing beat, louder than before, reentered his head and the veins in his brow bulged with anger. The man with the club walked behind Will and stopped. He threw a fur hat into Will's lap and then another rough piece of cloth much like the one in his mouth was cinched around his eyes. The last thing Will saw was the dark skinned man making his way across the room to where his stunned children sat. He didn't see them leave, but Will heard his children screaming for their Father as they and their mother were pulled from the cabin and lashed to the back of the dappled gray. Within a minute, the beating hooves grew distant and they were gone.



  2. #2
    martin shaw
    Guest

    Re: Critiques Please ! Come one, come all!

    Hi; I enjoyed this. It confused me though, as he ran to the cabin: I had to read this piece again. I didn't automatically deduce there was a cabin.

    The hair on his chest is someoneís scalp, but his children are alive, no?

    Err, Will confuses me at first. William would be more apt at the start of a sentence. Perhaps if I went back over it again, I would maybe understand it all a little better, but Iím sure you know that's not the point.

    All in all, I found it gripping and well written, but maybe a tad confusing. Good stuff indeed though

  3. #3
    Jeanne Gassman
    Guest

    Re: Critiques Please ! Come one, come all!

    Hmm...Not bad, but I think this would be stronger if you pulled back a little. You have a tendency to set the scene, and then to add just one more image, one more description. At times, I feel as though the camera is pivoting from image to image, reflecting the writer's desire that the reader see it all. Let's see if I can show you how to trim this so that it stays more focused (Comments are in CAPS so they will stand out):

    The axe head was hot from splitting logs of a felled oak tree. Will left the tool buried in a stump and shrugged sweat from his sunburnt jaw. (CUT THIS SENTENCE. YOU'RE TRYING TO EXPLAIN WHY HE'S CUTTING FIREWOOD. WE DON'T NEED TO KNOW. Remaining days of summer were few and winter preparations had to be made.) Green firewood was stacked in tight rows beneath a craggy willow. (IT'S BETTER TO COMBINE DESCRIPTION WITH ACTION SO THAT THE DESCRIPTION DOESN'T SOUND LIKE A SET PIECE. TRY COMBINING THESE SENTENCES: HIS CRAMPING MUSCLES URGING HIM TO REST, HE SQUATTED IN THE SHADE OF A PINE LADEN WITH OPAQUE SPANISH MOSS. HIS KNUCKLES, RED AS GLOWING EMBERS, CRACKLED AS HE WIPED THE SWEAT FROM HIS FACE. Opaque moss hung from the tree, creating a webbed canopy only inches from the ground, burdened by its own weight. Will sat down and allowed his cramping muscles a reprieve from their labor. His knuckles, cracked and red, shone like embers rising up from the back of his weathered hands.)

    (AGAIN, COMBINE THE DESCRIPTION WITH THE ACTION: HE HEARD THE FIRST SCREAM, SHRILL AND RESONATING, AS HE REACHED FOR HIS LEATHER FLASK.The first scream came as he reached for his leather flask. It was a shrill sound, resonating in all directions.) Silence, then (ANOTHER SCREAM the scream came again,) this time unmistakably (FROM THE CLEARING OR FROM HIS CABIN? THE ATTACK SEEMS TO TAKE PLACE IN THE CABIN. from the clearing where his cabin stood.) He freed the axe and ran for the cabin, leaping over thick roots that lay diagonally across the beaten trail. His legs and lungs burned more out of fear than exhaustion as he exited the woods through a barrier of slender pines. (THE WORD "WAITED" CONFUSED ME HERE. I HAD THE IMPRESSION THAT THE HORSES WERE WAITING FOR THE OCCUPANTS OF THE CABIN. I WOULD CUT SOME OF THE DETAIL HERE TO: TWO UNFAMILIAR HORSES, LATHERED AND SLICK FROM A RECENT RUN, STOOD IN FRONT OF HIS CABIN DOOR. Two horses waited unlashed at the front door.) One was a dappled gray, the other a luminous black, their long faces turning to stare at Will as he charged towards them. The horses were slick with the effort of a recent run.)

    Will crouched low along the cabin's outside wall, (LOVELY IMAGE, BUT I'M NOT SURE WHAT IT MEANS. IS THIS HIS DUST? DUST FROM THE HORSES? PERHAPS JUST SAY A "A BANK OF SHIMMERING DUST FLOATED IN THE AIR. a bank of shimmering dust from the Louisiana earth floated in behind him.) (CUT THIS. HE'S BEEN CUTTING WOOD AND RUNNING FAST. WE CAN ASSUME HE WAS GASPING.REMEMBER, THIS IS WILL'S POV. HE MAY NOT BE THINKING ABOUT HIS BEATING HEART. AT THIS MOMENT, HE SHOULD BE MORE FOCUSED ON THE ACTIVITY IN HIS HOUSE. He was gasping air in rhythm with his throttled heart as the rough hewn cedar logs filled his nostrils with a pungent odor.) Will saw the half profile of one black boot heel resting on the top step leading into the cabin. He tightened his grip on the axe handle until he heard the wood squeak and in one smooth motion he stood up and swung the axe into the wide doorway. (CUT THIS. IT'S CONFUSING BECAUSE I THOUGHT HE HIT WOOD. THE NEXT SENTENCE CLARIFIES THE ACTION. The iron lodged into something solid and was pulled from Will's grasp.) (KEEP THIS. A man with blood spurting from his neck fell backward into the powdered dirt, his face canvassed red.) (CUT THIS. IF HIS FACE IS CANVASSED RED, WE ALREADY KNOW HE'S BLEEDING. THIS DESCRIPTION IS AN EXAMPLE OF YOUR DESIRE TO EXPLAIN TO THE READER. His jugular vein still twitched and an expanding pool of blood framed his face, his eyes burning holes in the heavens above.) (I WOULD CHANGE THE DYNAMICS OF THIS ACTION SO THAT NOT ALL ACTIONS ARE EQUAL. WILL IS MORE CONCERNED ABOUT THE OCCUPANTS OF THE CABIN AND CARES NOTHING ABOUT THE DEAD MAN. TRY: KICKING THE MAN'S HEAD ASIDE, WILL PICKED UP THE AXE AND FACED THE DOOR. Will kicked the man's head aside, picked up the axe and faced the cabin's entrance.)

    A smaller foe, dark and sinewy, held a rifle and a coiled length of rope in his left hand. He glared at Will through unflinching obsidian eyes. (CUT THIS. YOU'RE EXPLAINING MOTIVE. NO NEED. IT'S CLEAR FROM CONTEXT. Their gaze locked, both of them silent, tempting the other with their show of resolve.) From inside the cabin came the din of crying children. Outside, the wind had ceased to blow and a stagnant silence overshadowed the clearing. (ANOTHER PLACE WHERE YOU TRY TO EXPLAIN TO THE READER. THE NEXT SENTENCE MAKES HIS ACTIONS CLEAR. CUT THIS. Will chose to make the first move and hefted the still dripping axe to attack.) As (WILL he) shifted his weight to strike, a punishing blow to the back of the head dropped him in a heap atop the fresh corpse near his doorstep.

    Hope that helps. It's a good start, but it needs tightening. If you've been told that you use too much description, then look for ways that you can combine the description with the action.

    Jeanne

  4. #4
    Author Pendragin
    Guest

    Re: Critiques Please ! Come one, come all!

    Good job D.D

  5. #5
    d d
    Guest

    Re: Critiques Please ! Come one, come all!

    Thanks everyone for your advice. Especially Jeanne, thanks for taking the time to give some detailed thought on the structure.

    My historical piece is ending up with a James Patterson novel pace. I appreciate the usual lush background, etc. that is usually associated with historical fiction, but I also enjoy a fast paced read. I hope to land somewhere in the middle.

  6. #6
    Chris Anderson
    Guest

    Re: Critiques Please ! Come one, come all!

    Very nice piece. I agree with a lot of Jeanne's crits about combining action with description. Anytime you can just kind of throw in a set piece or prop or description within action it makes it a lot smoother. Otherwise things slow down a lot.

    As for the story, it's a great heart pounding intro to a book, but I would like just a hint of foreshadow or even some sort of recognition by Will of what's happening. It's a little hollow without having any idea if Will knows what's happening, who they are, etc. If he truly has no idea you should maybe just throw that in somewhere quick. I think it would be nice to see that he at least has a clue who they are. Even if he doesn't have history with them, maybe he has at least heard of this notorious band of child thieves.

    The last sentence seems to me the wrong POV. Although the story is not first person, everything we know in the story is from Will's observations. But in the final sentence, he someone knows that they leave strapped to the dappled gray even though he is blindfolded and inside the cabin. If that was more vague, it would fall in line with POV better and also add just a touch more backbone to Will's helpless, powerless, blind state.

  7. #7
    John Oberon
    Guest

    Re: Critiques Please ! Come one, come all!

    I think your main problem is a poor eye for detail, and itís pretty consistent throughout the piece. Letís take the ďWill crouched lowÖĒ paragraph as an example. Here are the thoughts that ran through my mind as I read that paragraph.

    Will crouched low along the cabin's outside wall (WHICH WALL? THEREíS FOUR OF THEM, I SUSPECT), a bank of shimmering dust from the Louisiana earth floated in behind him (WHAT? IS THIS AN INSTANT DUST STORM OR SOMETHING?). He was gasping air in rhythm with his throttled heart as the rough hewn cedar logs filled his nostrils with a pungent odor. (DOES HE HAVE A CARBURETOR ON HIS HEART? HEíS ONE STEP AWAY FROM A SERIOUS CONFRONTATION, AND HE TAKES TIME TO NOTICE THE SMELL OF CEDAR OF THE CABIN HE PRESUMABLY BUILT AND HAS LIVED IN FOR A WHILE?) Will saw the half profile of one black boot heel resting on the top step leading into the cabin. (THEREíS ONE BLACK BOOT HEEL ON HIS TOP STEP? ODD WORDING. THAT MEANS THEREíS MORE THAN ONE STEP. OKAY, SO THE IMPLICATION IS THAT THEREíS A BAD GUY WEARING BOOTS, AND WILL SEES ABOUT HALF THE HEEL OF ONE BOOT RESTING ON THE TOP STEP. IS THE BAD GUY FACING IN OR OUT? IF HEíS RESTING HIS HEEL ON THE STEP, MAYBE HEíS FACING OUT, LIKE A LOOK-OUT. BUT THEY JUST ARRIVED; WOULDNíT HE BE FACING IN WATCHING THE ACTION? CAN THE GUY REST HIS HEEL ON THE STEP IF HEíS FACING IN? I DONíT THINK SO; WILL WOULD BE ABLE TO SEE THE GUY THEN. MAYBE ITíS NOT REALLY A STEP, BUT A RAISED PART OF THE LOWER DOOR FRAME OR SOMETHING. THAT WOULD WORK. BUT IT ISNíT; ITíS THE TOP STEP OF MORE THAN ONE.) He tightened his grip on the axe handle until he heard the wood squeak and in one smooth motion he stood up and swung the axe into the wide doorway. (THATíS A PRETTY STRONG GRIP TO MAKE WOOD SQUEAK. DOES HE HAVE HYDRAULIC HANDS OR SOMETHING? SHEESH, HEíS STANDING RIGHT NEXT TO THE DOOR! I DIDNíT KNOW THAT! WHY DIDNíT THEY HEAR HIM OR THAT SQUEAKING WOOD? WHAT ABOUT THE STEPS? HOW MANY STEPS WERE THERE? DIDNíT WILL HAVE TO GO UP THE STEPS TO HIT THE GUY? WAS THERE A PORCH OR JUST STEPS?) The iron lodged into something solid and was pulled from Will's grasp. (WHOA, WHAT DID HE HIT? WILLíS HOLDING IRON NOW AND NOT WOOD? AND WHATíS STRONG ENOUGH TO PULL THAT IRON FROM HIS HYDRAULIC HANDS?) A man with blood spurting from his neck fell backward into the powdered dirt, his face canvassed red. (OKAY, HE HIT THE GUY IN THE NECK, APPARENTLY. WHEREíS THE AXE? THEREíS POWDERED DIRT INSIDE THE CABIN?) His jugular vein still twitched and an expanding pool of blood framed his face, his eyes burning holes in the heavens above. (OH, SO THE GUY WAS FACING INTO THE CABIN AND FELL BACKWARDS AWAY FROM THE CABIN, SINCE HEíS NOW LOOKING AT THE HEAVENS, UNLESS OF COURSE THE CABIN HAS NO ROOF. BUT WAITÖWILL PLANTS A DISAPPEARING AXE INTO A GUY FROM BEHIND AND THE GUY FALLS BACKWARD TOWARD WILL? ALL THAT FORWARD FORCE, AND THE GUY FALLS BACKWARD? I DOUBT THAT WOULD HAPPEN. AND WHAT HAPPENED TO THE STEPS?) Will kicked the man's head aside, picked up the axe and faced the cabin's entrance. (HOLY COW! HE CUT THE GUYíS HEAD OFF COMPLETELY! WHEN DID HE DO THAT? HOW DID HE DO THAT, SINCE HE DIDNíT HAVE THE AXE. AAAH, HE PICKS UP THE AXE; I WONDER WHERE IT WAS ALL THAT TIMEÖ)

  8. #8
    Lea Zalas
    Guest

    Re: Critiques Please ! Come one, come all!

    It's really good. But this kind of glared at me, is Kora alive? Otherwise, if she's dead why would they take her body with them? Can you clarify?

  9. #9
    d d
    Guest

    Re: Critiques Please ! Come one, come all!

    Thanks again everyone.

    John.....wow ! I appreciate you taking the time to add your insight and I've read quite a few of your other posts to some people that have been great, but if I added as much detail as you are suggesting then to me it seems that the text would be really bloated and wordy.

    When I read books I notice all the time that there are things that the author just assumes are known or realized and that is the case with my opening.

    For instance, the iron" is the axehead.....it seem that is obvious.

    The wood handle squeaking... ah, I don't know if you've chopped much wood or ever played baseball, but an average strength grip can easily promote squeaking.

    I don't know, maybe I'm wrong, but it seems that in most stories there are things open for interpretation as far as detail is concerned.

    LEA, yes, Kora is alive and she plays a part in the future script.....the "scalping" is explained later on and there is a reason why her captors treated her this way.

    Keep it coming......I've already got some great ideas from your input. Thanks.

  10. #10
    Chris Hill
    Guest

    Re: Critiques Please ! Come one, come all!

    Hi.

    I think John Oberon's point was not that there is insufficient detail, but that the detail is unclear. You won't be around to explain what you meant to an agent, a publisher, or a reader, so you have to make sure the details you include do the job you want them to.

    I think you potentially have a gripping story in a strong setting. But, when I read your stuff I tended to pass over anything I was unclear on. Detail is good, but it must be brief and telling detail. Pointed detail, expressed in an original way, will tell the reader everything they need to know in order to keep moving with the story.

    In my opinion.

    Thanks.

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts