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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Fearful Critiques #1

Vesper's Call
Sci-fi/Action/Adventure
336 Words

I've reworked this several times already, but something just seems off about it still. I can't quite capture the anguish and helplessness, and I'm not sure I managed to portray the psychological transformation from mother and doctor back into assassin.

This scene is toward the beginning. So far, there's been a bombing while Kallen is on the way to lunch. She is a trauma surgeon, so she works her way through injured people back to the hospital. After a while, her twin daughters are brought in, but one is already dead and the other dies in her arms. In her peoples' traditions, she burns the bodies at sea. Before this piece, we get a small hint that she was an assassin, but nothing big. Any advice would be much appreciated. Thank you!

Long after the last of the ash had descended below the water, the lone woman trudged slowly back up the dunes, ignoring the sand between her bare toes and the wind knotting her red-blond hair. The hem of her battered and bloody scrubs tore how did they tear?, but she didn’t even notice. She mounted the steps and entered the cozy, fortified cottage that had been home to the small family for the past four years. Wispy memories surfaced, became tangible, touchable, the voices of the past drowning her in familiarity, in joy, in misery. I love this sentence. I can see her looking around and seeing the past.  Sweet little voices stabbed her ears; soft little fingers raked sharply over her skin; saintly little faces burned her eyes. I understand what you are trying to accomplish here, but the contrasting words felt forced to me. It might work if you just choose one set. Also, consider showing us a real memory instead of telling us what she's experiencing. Perhaps show the girls kneeling at the table making something for their mom, or giggling over a game. Let us experience the joy so the pain is all the more real for us too. It was all real and all imaginary; concrete but incorporeal. It was too much and not enough. LOVE THIS LINE.

Her lungs burned; too many breaths, too little oxygen. Suffocating, drowning, buried alive—hands reached out of the floor. Accusations, past sins, failures, shortcomings, they all reached out to trip her, kill her. She tripped and stumbled and was dragged down, but slowly, eventually, made her way to the rooftop terrace. There is so much going on here that I don't know what to focus on. Burned, suffocating, drowning, buried, accusations, sins, failures, shortcomings. It's telling as well. See my notes below for my suggestion of how to fix this paragraph. She crawled on torn-up hands and knees what happened to her hands and knees? Was she also in the explosion? closer to the sky, now tainted red with I suggest saying like since it isn't actually their blood in the sky the blood of her daughters. Slowly, painfully, as if moving through mud, all three things convey the same thought. she pulled herself to unsteady feet. Then, of course, there was only one thing left to do.

Head thrown back, arms flung wide, she screamed.

Breath after breath was drawn into clenching lungs, to be let out again, on its way serrating Is this really possible? Or do you just mean bruised? I don't know I'm just asking. vocal chords. The violence of the sound, of the act, was nowhere near enough to satiate the vengeful spirits of the dead and the blood-hunger within. I like the primeval feel to this, but it's getting buried in all the talk about damaged vocal chords. This is the important part in my mind. It merely uncovered the simmering, seething anger and hate that had been meticulously buried years ago. LOVE THIS! It merely...gave me chills. This is where I start to feel the change coming. I don't think you need the next sentences at all. It smothered the motherly gentility and the doctoral concern. It brought center and purpose.

Sometime in the passing hour she screamed for a solid hour?, the time it took to injure vocal chords enough to hinder usage, overkill on the vocal chords again. Dr. Kallen Phoebe died…and from the ashes, Vesper Phoenix, harbinger of the end, was reborn. LOVE THIS!
Quick note: After my initial reading, I was confused about a few things so I asked the author some questions in order to put the scene in context--that's where the second set up paragraph came from. Before digging into someone's work ask questions to learn what it is you are looking at and what the author may need from you. 

Thank you so much for sharing your scene with us. Please remember that all my questions and thoughts are simply my opinion and are subject to the fact that this is only a small look into your WIP. Reading what came before may have changed my thoughts on some of these things. Please use what is useful to you and toss out the rest.

Alright, there is a lot of great imagery in this selection. I think, for me anyway, what isn't working is that I feel distanced from the MC. Psychologically she's probably in shock, but as readers we want to feel everything with the MC. If she feels nothing, we feel nothing. Kallen is experiencing a lot of pain, but she has distanced herself from it, and the reader too.

Simplify. I got bogged down in all the description--which was excellent, but there was just too much of it. Close your eyes and put yourself in Kallen's place. You are standing by the water, the ashes of your daughters have settled and floated away from you forever. Would you wait to walk through the house and climb the stairs to the roof to scream?

I think I would sink to my knees in the sand, dig my hands in as deep as I could in an effort to root myself and let it all out. Heaving sobs into the void left by their death. I would scream, tears streaming down my face as I remembered my sweet girls. You can still show us a memory here as easily as in the house. Perhaps the girls playing in the waves or building a sand castle?

When the voice and tears are all used up you hit your transition from Doctor to assassin again with the best parts of the last two paragraphs.

All in all I can see where you are going and it's going to be awesome! There is mystery here about how she escaped the world of being an assassin in the first place, conflict that she is now running back to it for revenge. I don't know the details of the bombing, but I can feel that after this moment in time Vesper Phoenix is going to be walking death for anyone that gets in her way. And I LOVE that!

You are really close here, just simplify all the descriptions and pick those that best show the reader what Kallen is feeling emotionally and physically. Let us smell the dying embers mixed with the ocean air, feel the breeze carrying parts of her daughters out to sea or to the shore, basically immerse us in the senses. I think adding a few of these will bring it all together for you.

Links to check out:
Bookshelf Muse Sadness/Grief
Bookshelf Muse Physical and Emotional Pain

3 comments:

mshatch said...

I agree with all of Charity's comments. The only thing I wonder is if at the very beginning of this paragraph if Kallen can be named, if she's already been introduced. I think naming her might connect the reader to her and the story rather than identifying her as a lone woman.

and I loved the parts Charity loved, too :)

nice work!

Huntress said...

I rarely read another’s critique before giving my own of the same excerpt. For me, it is too easy to go along. I am easily persuaded, in other words. So forgive me if I repeat the advice of my crit buddies.

"She mounted the steps and entered the (--cozy, fortified—cut) cottage that had been home to the small family for the past four years."

At this point, to bring the drama to a slow boil, throw in short or fragmented sentences. Note how long the sentences are in this paragraph. I would cut ‘home to a small family’ and insert the four years as a fragment to increase the drama.


"It was too much and not enough." EXCELLENT

in the paragraph beginning with "Wispy memories", try cutting all adjectives, all adverbs leaving the nouns and verbs. Then, like a painter, add one or two back, step back, look at it, then add a one or two more. See how it moves the story along. ‘Stabbed’ and ‘raked’ are excellent, very strong verb, btw.

"(--Her lungs burned—CUT) too many breaths, too little oxygen. Suffocating, drowning, buried alive—hands reached out of the floor. Accusations, past sins, failures, shortcomings, they (--all reached out to trip her—CUT) kill her."

"She tripped and stumbled and was dragged down, but slowly, eventually, made her way to the rooftop terrace. She crawled on torn (--up—CUT) hands and knees closer to the sky, now tainted red the blood of her daughters. Slowly, painfully, as if moving through mud, she pulled herself to unsteady feet. Then, of course, there was only one thing left to do."

I would make strong verbs a focal point but do not go overboard. “Tripped” Stumbled” “Dragged” That is a lot of verbs and it slows me when I try to visualize each one.

"Head thrown back, arms flung wide, she screamed." **omy. Makes me want to bawl**

"Breath after breath was drawn into clenching lungs, (--to be let out again, on its way—CUT) serrating. vocal chords."

I agree with the other cuts my critters suggested. Watch how many times you basically say the same thing. You want the reader to move forward in the story.

All in all.....um.......wow.
I mean....holy cow..wow.
Very strong, very mentally evocative.

Traci said...

Thank you so much for all your input! It was so great to have fresh eyes look at it and tweak it. I had hit a wall as far as revisions on this one, and with so many new ideas, it was so much easier to go back, see what wasn't working, and fix it. Thank you SO MUCH!!