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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Critting THE FALL OF ASTRALIS: detachment

THE FALL OF ASTRALIS is a YA SciFi Adventure. 

Chapter 1

The explosion was enormous, lighting up the night with a fiery radiance that nearly blinded him. Paul was 200 feet below the blast and felt none of its force but fell back in spite of himself, tripping over the uneven, rocky ground at the base of the cliff. >>Spell out numbers.<<

Stephanie, he thought immediately. She’s in the building.

Spellbound by the violent majesty of it all, he watched in horror as Dr. Abrams and Natasha were engulfed in flame. He pulled himself to his knees, intent on getting to the two of them as quickly as he was able but fell back again as chunks of concrete the size of small cars blasted outward over the lip of the cliff and began to rain down around him. >>He's 200 feet below at the bottom of a cliff. How can he see anything up there? Plus, if chunks that big are flying now, there must have been a second explosion.<<

Scrambling backward, spider-like, he clambered to his feet and began looking for a route away from the fallout. He knew he couldn’t be permanently harmed but he was still scared to death. It would hurt like hell if he were struck by any of the falling pieces and if he were crushed or pinned by one, there would be no chance of him being able to help anyone until sunrise. >>Green = bad verbs. You're diluting down the action with non-specific verbs and conjugating unnecessary tenses. You've also not filled in the background picture: as far as I know, by the end of this, Astralis consists of a concrete wall and a cliff.<<

Steeling himself, he gathered his courage and forced his feet to begin moving toward the rise leading back to Astralis but only made it a single step as another explosion rocked the earth, forcing his eyes upward. Against the glowing backdrop of the raging inferno that was now Astralis’ western wall, he saw the black silhouette of a body fly out over the precipice, arms and legs akimbo, like a ragdoll that had been tossed aside. The body passed the horizon that was the top of the cliff and disappeared into blackness. >>You insinuated that a building is what blew up. Be consistent.<<

“Nooooo!” Paul barely recognized the raw, anguished voice as his own. Please don’t let it be Dr. Abrams, please don’t let it be Dr. Abrams, he thought desperately. Changing course, he lurched in the direction of where the body should have landed. >>Dr. Abrams already caught fire. I'd think falling to his death would be a mercy.<<

Debris continued to rain down around him, the pieces smaller now, like giant hailstones. Small rumblings could still be heard from above, which may just be chunks of Astralis’ wall falling away or could be more, smaller explosions. Paul had no idea, so he moved carefully but quickly across a ground now littered with smoking and still-flaming pieces of concrete. >>Concrete doesn't burn.<<

He searched frantically, desperately, scanning for any sign of movement, but his field of vision was obscured by the amount of debris cluttering the ground. The sound of falling rock and raging fire was deafening. Whatever had been used as the component for the bomb was still burning strong. Fighting back an overwhelming desire to flee the hellish landscape, he fought back panic and continued searching the rubble for a body.

Like the sound of a bullet whizzing through the air, he only heard it for a split second before sudden, blinding pain lanced through him as a fist-sized chunk of rock slammed into his right shoulder and knocked him to the ground. He cried out in agony, half-mad from the pain.

“Paul!” he heard someone calling, but was still reeling from the impact. “Paul!” The voice came again. James. The deep southern drawl in James’ voice was unmistakable. Paul was pulled into a sitting position before he realized he’d been found.

James crouched in front of him, snapping his fingers in front of Paul’s eyes. “We got to get up there!” James shouted. “We got to see if anyone is hurt! You can help them!” James squinted into Paul’s eyes. “Come on, man! You can do this!”

Paul didn’t answer at first, still mentally catching up with everything that had happened in the last 60 seconds. Where was everyone else? Was everyone else okay? >>You've told me Paul's thoughts before. Why not do it here?<<


“I saw someone fall,” Paul finally said. “Off the cliff. I think—” Paul’s eyes widened, focusing just past James’ shoulder. Was that a hand? He couldn’t tell. There was a boulder blocking most of his view. >>Be clearer about where the hand is.<<

“You think what?” James demanded, mistaking Paul’s lack of finishing his sentence for shock. “Was it Abrams?”

Paul tried to get up but stumbled on the loose rock underfoot. He tried again, but fell right away and had to settle for a cross between walking, falling, and crawling toward what he was now sure was a hand.

Rounding the boulder with James right behind him, Paul was brought up short by the sight of the blackened husk of a body lying pinned by a small chunk of concrete. The concrete still burned, illuminating the corpse with a flickering, unholy light. It lay with its face turned away from him, all the hair singed from its skull. It could be anyone.

He could feel James’ presence beside him, recognizing from the way James stood motionlessly that he saw it too. Heart in his throat, Paul took a few quick, shallow breaths and forced himself to move.

His first glimpse of Natasha’s face caused him to turn away and retch. It was a reflex and he knew it, but he couldn’t stop it. In the dream, there was nothing to cough up except emotion. >>what dream?<<

“Oh, God,” James intoned softly, sadly.

Her face was recognizable, but only barely. Her eyes were empty sockets, presumably melted from the intense heat. Her face was scorched, blackened into a dreadful, hardened mask of torment personifying her last, horrible moments of life. >>Eyes don't melt, AFAIK. They burn.<<

Paul felt a shameful relief. Relief that it wasn’t Dr. Abrams lying before him, and shame that he’d feel anything but remorse for the loss of someone he’d known and cared for. He continued to stare, focusing on the sight of this dead woman until he felt the first stirrings of anger.

“Paul,” James said in a low tone, but Paul didn’t answer. He stared into Natasha’s empty eyes, searing the image of her burnt-out husk into his memory. Stoll. Dittrich. This was what men like them did to other people who didn’t bend to their will. This was why Paul would never allow them to take control of Astralis. Anger and fear blended together, threatening to overtake his senses. “Paul!” James said again, louder and more insistent. “She’s gone,” he said. “There is nothing we can do for her.”

James was right—there might be others injured they could still help. After seeing Natasha’s body he couldn’t imagine that Dr. Abrams could possibly be alive, but he had to hold on to hope.

Grimly, Paul turned his gaze upward to Astralis where the fires still burned. Had the explosion reached the guest rooms? Was Stephanie okay?

>>Language is getting in your way here. A lot of the descriptions in this scene are very detached from the situation. It's a combination of vague verbs, lack of setting, and unneeded details like how Paul can't be hurt or wondering what the rumblings are. Tell us the important things -- and only the important things -- about why what's happening is important, scary, what Paul's feeling... The action here could be a lot more compact, and structured to show the reader more of what's going on.<<


Matthew Keith Reviews said...

Good, good feedback. This is the 3rd in a trilogy and is written literally the minute after Book 2 leaves off, so I'm assuming a lot on the part of the reader--obviously I shouldn't, because certainly there will those who read this one first.

"Over-written" is the way my editor has described much of my rough drafts and I think you hit the nail on the head.

GREAT feedback, very specific and helpful. Thank you!

L. Blankenship said...

Well, if it's the third book then I think you can assume most of your readers are not complete newbies... but a few reminders would not be bad. You have no way of knowing how long it's been since they read #2.

Charity Bradford said...

I spent most of the time wondering if Stephanie was Dr. Abrams. It was a stupid thing to get hung up on, but I don't think you ever referred to the doctor as he or she, so I just couldn't be sure.

There are a lot of characters mentioned here and since I haven't read the first two books its almost overload for me. Also, you mention Stephanie at the beginning and not again until the end. How important is she?

L really got it right when she mentioned how detached everything feels. Because of that I would say you could cut this whole chapter in half. Don't waste as much time watching and hearing the explosions, falling down, whatever. Let's get to doing something about it faster.

Interesting though. I'm curious about Paul and why he can't be damaged permanently.

Huntress, aka CD Coffelt said...

I agree with Green Font. Stronger verbs, leave out the descriptions and get to the point.

Too many words slow the action.

Lots of Tell vs Show. Example:
"Spellbound by the violent majesty of it all..."
You are 'telling' the reader what they should see and not painting the scenes with words. Think of a visual appearance of a man 'spellbound' then use that description.

Limit your use of 'ing' words anytime but especially at the beginning of a sentence. Examples: Scrambling, steeling, rounding.

Apply adjectives with a light touch. Suggestion: "A blackened husk brought them up short, the flames illuminating a corpse with an unholy light. It could be anyone."

I noted that Paul and James were moving in the previous paragraph. No need for: "...Rounding the boulder with James right behind him, Paul was brought up short..."

Also you don't need phrases like: "...It lay with its face turned away from him, all the hair singed from its skull..." By saying, 'it could be anyone' you gave the reader an excellent visual. Big Thumbs Up!!!

Summary: Less is more. Don't browbeat the reader with descriptions, adjectives, and adverbs. Touch lightly, then let go. Allow the reader's imagination to fill in the blanks.