An unselfish wish made on the horn of a unicorn will come true. Our wish? To support the writing community by giving constructive tips and criticism through submissions. Check out the submissions tab for more information. We can survive the crucible of fire together.

Monday, December 17, 2012

First crit of the week

A writer bravely throws this scene under my red pen:

A man’s hand reached out from the smoky-plated mirror and caressed River’s cheek. The dark pink nails glowed against her pale skin. A rusted manacle chain dangled from his fist, clinking softly as the open cuff slapped around her arm. River was trapped like an animal trapped in a cage. Her lips trembled, but she would not cry. Crying would only prove she was weak. Instead, she would make him suffer, but how? A sudden impulse spurred her thoughts into actions and her hand darted to the free-swinging manacle and she slapped the open end of the shackles onto his wrist, clicking it shut. She heard a startled gasp escape from his mouth and felt the jerk on her hand as he instantly drew his arm away. Too late, he seemed to realize what she had done. His arm was shackled to River’s wrist.

You win the first crit by putting up an interesting image that caught my eye as I was copy/pasting all the submissions into Blogger. However: if he's caressing her cheek, how is he also holding a manacle chain in his fist? I would assume a caress is delivered with an open hand. Or is there a second hand involved?  Second: she took the manacle away from him? Easily? Not real smart to hand somebody a manacle while you're reaching through a magic mirror, is it... but then you say that now he's shackled to her. So... now I'm confused about the shackle. Maybe there was a previous scene and your readers knew she was already half shackled, and why half of it would be left open for her to play with, but if there wasn't then you need to be clearer about the starting situation and how River managed this. 

On the whole, a good start. The highlighted phrase is a bit of wordiness I think you don't need. How about: On impulse, her hand darted...

 “You—!” he exclaimed, his voice between surprise and outrage. Again, he pulled his arm back, jerking against the chain, and River’s hand went with him. “What have you done? You loony girl. Do you think I do not have a key for these chains?"

She caught a glimpse of her reflection in the mirror, and immediately stopped her fluttering eyes. Unprepared for his response, she cocked her eyes upwards and spied a key hanging from a hook. She snatched the key and slipped it down the bodice of her dress.  Immediately she felt her face grow hot and her mirror image proved her cheeks now flamed red.

“You are a mad woman!” Who said this?

The voice from the mirror was calm, deliberate, almost detached. “What possessed you to do something as childish as that? What were you thinking?”

River paused for a moment, struggling to sort her thoughts.

Is this really happening? No, it can’t be. Mirrors can’t talk. It must be a memory, but whose? Where am I in this memory?

If somebody remembers a mirror talking, then mirrors must be able to talk. Is there a reason that River wouldn't know that..? is it weird...?

She drew in a deep breath and tried to recall the time and place. Oh, yes. This wasn’t her memory. There was a convict onboard a ship. The poor girl had been sold into slavery but she escaped and River had been asked to erase the memory to protect the runaway slave. Thank goodness she remembered, but River had no choice but to follow along until the memory played itself out.

Highlight: the runaway slave, or River?

“I refuse to let you take me below this God-forsaken ship with the common criminals housed there. I do not belong there any more than you belong there. If I go, you go,” she said as she pinched her lips together.

The man lost his speech and River could tell he tried his best not to smile, as the reality of what she had done settled in. Half-comical. Half-dreadful. Completely crazy. As usual.

River glared into his eyes. She would make sure he did not win without a fight. Yanking her arm to her waist, the man fell completely out of the looking glass.

Just a thought: you could put the "River glared..." paragraph before she says "I refuse..." Also: how about a little description of this guy?

“Give me the key back,” he demanded, extending his free hand toward her, palm up. “Give me that key or I’ll rip that dress right off your body and retrieve it myself.”

That's very polite of him. She's a prisoner, sold into slavery (according to the memory) -- why's he being polite to her, and not immediately beating her down and ripping her clothes off?

River shook her head and stamped her foot on the floor.  “I will not return the key peaceably. I refuse to go below with the other convicts. I do not belong there.” River said.

The man narrowed his eyes and gritted his teeth. He reached out and grabbed the eyelet of River’s collar, but as he yanked the material, River stepped back and he fell against the frame of the mirror. A pink light flashed, and suddenly, River stood alone.

The two hundred year old memory dissipated like fog on a cold night, as if written in the Memory Book with invisible ink.

The runaway slave was 200+ years old? Okay. I'm left wondering: does this mean River succeeded in erasing this memory? I hope you explain that ASAP. Because you said that she was just following along -- so everything she did is what the slave did? How does that erase a memory? Or was it just the last bit of struggle that broke the pattern?

On the whole, this was a decent scene. It could use a little more place-setting: I don't know if this happened in a prison, on the slave ship, or somewhere else. Sketching in the surroundings some more would clear that up.

9 comments:

Patchi said...

As a stand alone piece this is a bit confusing, but I'm assuming it's not the start of the novel. I like the interaction with the guy in the mirror, but I'm not getting a sense of who he is. Maybe that comes earlier or later.

The first paragraph says he put the shackle on her arm, before she shackled him. Maybe if you say that he was reaching to bind her other arm it will be a smoother transition. I agree you don't need the highlighted phrase.

I was also confused when the slave girl was brought up. Not sure I understand how River is living the memory. Does she see herself in the mirror with the guy or the slave girl and the guy. Maybe you want to describe the reflection a bit more.

Another point I found confusing was keeping track on which side of the mirror the guy was. Describing what River is seeing might help.

Good luck. The premise seems interesting.

Charity Bradford said...

I agree that this is a very interesting idea and with a little tightening and clarifying it's going to be great. L covered a lot of stuff for you to think about. I'm just going to add 2 more from the first paragraph.

"A rusted manacle chain dangled from his fist, clinking softly as the open cuff slapped around her arm. River was trapped like an animal trapped in a cage."

In the first sentence you have two conflicting sensations--clinking softly as it slapped. In my mind the sound of someone being cuffed with old timey manacles would be a bit louder than soft clinking. I think you mean it clinked softly before the man grabbed it and slapped it on her wrist?

Second sentence has a repetition of trapped. Easy fix, just cut the second instance of it. "River was trapped like an animal in a cage."

I'm interested in finding out what these visions are and if she can physically be hurt during them. That would increase the tension.

Huntress said...

I see several problems. One is the wordiness and way-too-many adjectives. Too much action confuses the reader. Example: “The man narrowed his eyes and gritted his teeth.” Pick one and let that show his irritation.

Also backstory. The story immediately pulled me in with the image of a mirror, manacles, and a disembodied arm. Very cool.

But then, Huh? A memory that is or isn’t hers and sorting out which is which? Save this for another page because this part of the storyline is the essence of ‘cool’ also but give that Very Important First Page a balance. Introduce us to River and the mirror. Save *why* this is happening and the ‘Lucy. You got some ‘splaining to do’ for a later page.

Don’t ruin this most excellent of hooks with Too Much Information.

Ink in the Book said...

Thanks fr the feedback so far, howbeit harsh. *wipes sweat from forehead, grinning sheepishly*


River is The Memory Keeper. She owns an animated memory book. Yes, the memories are played out physically through her and I guess for any of this to make sense you would have to read the book from the beginning. It is explained, and there are very clear signs as to when a memory is playing itself out and when "real" life is taking place.

This was NOT the opening scene, so I don't think I am giving away too much. I guess I should have started at the beginning...

But this manuscript is out with several agents, so I was hoping for some feedback, which I'm getting, and taking it to heart. Thanks, ya'll!!

Charity Bradford said...

Oh! sorry, we don't mean it to sound harsh at all. You've got a great thing here and all of this is just our opinion.

It's good to know this isn't the beginning, and many of our concerns may not be valid with previous information. ;) This is just a look into what we're thinking having read ONLY this section. Hope that helps in some way.

Huntress said...

*agrees w/charity*

Sorry, I thought this was the first page. My bad.

This storyline IS very, very interesting. Don't think it wasn't. I want to know how she got to this point, what happened earlier and after. You created an image that stayed in my mind.

Sam F. said...

This is a really neat premise! I would definitely read this. Though I agree that you could cut down some of the description. A lot of it is repetitive, and some of the things you explain are implied. For example, "Immediately she felt her face grow hot and her mirror image proved her cheeks now flamed red." They imply each other, so I suggest picking just one.

Also, I'm not sure if you explain the slave ship earlier/later, but if not, then you might want to slow down your explanation of it. Right now, it's just "The poor girl had been sold into slavery but she escaped." Could you maybe show that, instead of tell it? That's quite an ordeal, so you have a great opportunity to include some very emotional language.

You have a really cool story! Good luck with this!

Lauren said...

I thought it was the first page as well. Far too confusing for that, but if it's mid-story by the time we get to this point we've probably got enough basis to understand.

I agree with the comments above, with the addition that I was continuously confused about what exactly was going on--actions seem to contradict themselves, and the scene itself is limited to a woman, a mirror, a hook with a key and the odd image of a mirror with hands.

Lauren

Ink in the Book said...

Thank you all so much! I'm thankful for your comments. I NEED harsh and having your thoughts helps me understand a readers point of view. I didn't mean to come across the wrong way. I AM thankful:)