Thursday, December 15, 2011

Every Thursday the Writing 101 crew, Michael and Lauren, will critique a page from a novel. If you'd like your page critiqued, please fill out the Writing 101: Page Critique Form.

We have submissions queued up but are still posting just one page a week, so if you've submitted but haven't seen your page yet, don't panic! ;) Stay tuned. Read the previous submission.


Our very first non-first-page comes from Laurie. Her submission is a page plucked from somewhere in the middle of her sci-fi novel Grey. She requests that our critique focus on flow, voice, believability of the characters, grammar, and overall clarity.

First we present the page without comment:
Author: Laurie
Title: Grey
Genre: Sci-Fi
285 words

“Hey, Ray.”

He blinks a couple of times, then looks down at me with narrowed eyes.

“Don't talk to me like you're my friend,” he snaps.

“Woah, you're in a bad mood. Is it because you're guarding the doors again?”

He grits his teeth.

“No, it's because some of my colleagues were murdered, that's why. What the hell do you think you're doing, talking to a superior like this? I should report you, and maybe I should say something about how you were talking like a traitor earlier?”

He grins victoriously but I play bored and give him an even look.

“So what?” I say. “I'll just tell them you were on duty at the time the Grey got in.”

The blood literally seeps from his face. He stares at me with eyes so wide he begins to remind me of an owl. A really big owl that could crush my neck in one hand if he wanted.

But instead of the anger I expected, with possible violence, he just stands there and gapes at me. I shift awkwardly. I'd wanted a rise out of him so he'd be less cautious about telling me what was going on, but now that my plan had failed, I wasn't sure what to do.

“Hey,” I say at last, “don't stare at me like I've gone mad. Say something.”

“A Grey?” he croaks. He looks genuinely scared. If it had been normal circumstances, I would have made fun of him. But no, the fact he looks like that made me realise for the first time just how serious the danger is. And that thought sends chills down my spine.



What say you, readers of Paper Hangover? Did this first page intrigue you enough to read on? Please keep your criticisms constructive. Always be polite and considerate of the writer.

Michael's and Lauren's line by line edits and then our overall comments after the jump.




“Hey, Ray.”

He blinks a couple of times, then looks down at me with narrowed eyes.

“Don't talk to me like you're my friend,” he snaps.

“Woah, you're in a bad mood. Is it because you're guarding the doors again?”

He grits his teeth. Keep his reaction and dialogue in the same paragraph for clarity. “No, it's because some of my colleagues were murdered, that's why. What the hell do you think you're doing, talking to a superior like this? I should report you, and maybe I should say something about how you were talking like a traitor earlier?”

He grins victoriously but I play bored and give him an even look.

“So what?” I say. “I'll just tell them you were on duty at the time the Grey got in.”

The blood literally seeps from his face. I don’t believe he’s actually bleeding from his face, but by the use of the word “literally” it evokes an image of blood actually oozing out of his face. If you mean it seeped metaphorically, then don’t say blood “literally” seeps. Cut “literally”. But I’d still suggest not to use “seeps” at all because of its literal meaning and the image it evokes.  He stares at me with eyes so wide he begins to remind me of an owl. A really big owl that could crush my neck in one hand if he wanted.

But instead of the anger I expected, with possible violence, he just stands there and gapes at me. I shift awkwardly. I'd wanted a rise out of him so he'd be less cautious about telling me what was going on, but now that my plan had failed, I wasn't sure what to do.

“Hey,” I say at last, “don't stare at me like I've gone mad. Say something.”

“A Grey?” he croaks. He looks genuinely scared. Describe how he looks. Show us his facial expression or have him react in another way that we can see. If it had been normal circumstances, I would have made fun of him. But no, the fact he looks like that made me realise for the first time just how serious the danger is. And that thought sends chills down my spine. Cliche.


Michael’s comments:

Flow - Dialogue always moves faster than narrative so the pace  in this page is fast, but not overly so. I never stumbled once in my reading.

Voice - The voice didn’t really come through for me in this scene. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t stand out either. That doesn't mean it fails to do so throughout the rest of the novel though. However, it could possibly be a good indication of where you might need to put some extra focus in your revisions. Everything the reader needs to know comes through narrative clearly, but not in a compelling way. I didn’t find any turns of phrase or unique metaphors here, but you don’t need those on every page. They are much better in small doses. And maybe you have included some of that elsewhere in your story.

Characters - These characters come across as if they are some kind of military persons. That was my impression when the concept of superiors came up. If not military, they are at least officials who hold some sort of rank. In any case, they didn’t feel as authentic as they could be given their hinted upon statuses.

When Ray says, “...some of my colleagues were murdered,...” he comes across as unattached to the deaths. I don’t know how long ago these deaths occurred previous to this scene, nor do I know the relationship between Ray and these colleagues of his or the circumstances of their deaths and how much weight they hold in the story. But Ray’s reaction came across to me like, “Meh. Some people died. I’m over it. Now I’m going to report you for being naughty.”

I’m not saying that Ray must dwell on these deaths. Maybe he has already mourned them and gotten past it. But I feel like his reaction could use a little more bite.

What if he doesn’t even say the reason why he’s angry? Why would he confess that to a lower ranking official anyway? What if he were to immediately make a threat to the main character.

Before I give you an example on how to do this, I want to make it clear that I don’t make it a habit of rewriting someone’s work in my own voice, but sometimes it’s the best way to express ideas.

Example:
….
“Woah, you're in a bad mood. Is it because you're guarding the doors again?”
“Good [soldiers] died [yesterday].” Silence. “And traitors like you get to walk around. But not if I file a report.”
He grins victoriously but I play bored and give him an even look.
“You were on duty at the time the Grey got in.”
He stares at me ….

(The brackets around the words are because I’m not sure if they are soldiers or not and I also don’t know when the deaths occurred.)

Again, don’t just cut and paste my example into your scene. Take the idea of it and rework it utilizing your own voice and the knowledge you have of the plot/characters that I don’t. You know your story and characters better than I do.

Grammar - Nothing to see here. Good job!

Clarity - Even with the scene given out of context I was able to follow it. Everything that does occur is clear. I didn’t struggle with any of your writing style.


Lauren’s comments:

While reading over this for the second time I actually had the thought, “Damn it, I can’t think of anything to say.” But then I realized you’d probably be happy to hear that. ;) I find this very well written so I imagine your story is on the right track!

Where I’m hardest to please is character believability, so that’s where you’ll get some critique out of me. Mainly, I have questions for you, brought up by lack of context.

Like Michael, I got the sense that this is some type of military/official setting. So it stretches my suspension of disbelief that the protagonist is speaking so casually to Ray. Unless they are friends, though I don’t get any sense of affection in the protag’s narration. And if they’re not friends, why is it unusual for Ray to demand respect? In other words, why is the narrator acting as though insubordinate behavior isn’t remarkable?

I disagree with Michael on one thing, and that’s Ray’s line about his colleagues being murdered. I just get the idea he’s a no-nonsense dude giving a cheeky answer. But you should obviously take into account what sort of person you’re writing Ray as and take Michael’s suggestion accordingly, and he provides a good example to work from.

Overall, great work! I’m a sucker for creepiness and suspense and right now I’m super curious to know what the heck a Grey is. Gimme more!

3 comments:

laurie17 said...

Thanks for the crits! I agree with pretty much all of what you said - I specifically put this scene down as I feel it's the weakest one, so these crits are very useful.
To clarify: it's set in a military school on another planet, prepping students for war against the Greys (aliens native to that planet).
Thank you very much :)

-Laurie

Michael L. Martin Jr. said...

Glad we could help, Laurie. And that new information definitely clarifies things about the characters.

But the fact that we were able to gleam that they were in the military through the context in which the story is told shows that you're choosing the right words to tell your story. Well done! :)

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