Today we’re critiquing a first page submission, UNTITLED. My comments follow.
Locked up. That’s how it felt, with Liam’s one arm wrapped around my body and the other around my neck. I flexed my arms. His grip tightened. His sweat was dripping onto me, creating a puddle between my shoulder blades. He was way bigger – no way I could use brute force against him.
“How’s that for revenge, huh?” He snickered into my ear.
I chuckled lightly. He grounded his teeth in annoyance. The class was staring at us, so was our coach, Mr. Randall. Cedric grinned at me from the back. I grinned. “Not good enough.” I wrapped a leg around his, pulling upwards at the same time. His arms flailed as he attempted to regain his balance, failed, and crashed to the floor, dragging me down with him.
I got to my feet immediately and took the Jod Muay stance again. Head bent, arms up, protecting my face, left foot forward. I motioned with my finger, taunting him.
Liam scrambled to his feet. There was an ugly looking bruise on the side of his head. “You little shit-“
“We all know who that is.”
Liam swore and lunged towards me with a punch. I sidestepped and grabbed hold of his wrist. I watched as his eyes widened with surprise. I grinned. Then delivered two punches straight to his kidneys. Liam crumpled to the floor, gasping for breath.
“Ryan! Get off him!”
I turned to face my coach. “Mr. Randall-!”
“That’s enough Muay Thai for today! Your class is over!”
I swore. “Come on, sir! Just a few more minutes!” Hell, I was having fun. And we had barely started.
Before he could reply, Liam’s elbow slashed across the side of my head. Blinding white pain – then anger.
I tackled Liam to the floor, pummeling every inch of his body I could find. Once, twice, a third time. Liam was already half unconcious, barely fighting back.
I felt someone grab my arms and I was dragged away. I kicked backwards.
Cedric stepped in front of me, still holding down my arms. “Take it easy, buddy.”
I was still shaking. My face felt hot. “That – That bloody – hurt – “
Cedric put a hand on my shoulder. “Look, fight in the dorm, you know Mr. Randall doesn’t like you-“
“Yeah.” I cut him off, trying to focus on breathing calmly. Half the school teachers hated me. And it wasn’t my fault.
This page does a nice job of conveying the tension of physical combat between the two characters in the scene. I sense an interesting main character and story here, but there are a few craft-related issues getting in the way. Some points to consider for revision:
Why do we care?
The first paragraphs in this scene convey the physical aspects of a boxing match, but little more. We get a hint of emotional tension at the end (the illegal punch, the reference to being disliked), but we could use some of that tension earlier. A boxing match without any context isn’t particularly compelling.
Keep the reader’s attention focused
The first paragraph combines a series of rapid-fire actions that shift the reader’s focus from the narrator to his opponent, then back again. That’s okay, but when dialogue is suddenly interjected, (“How’s that for revenge, huh?”), it’s unclear at first which character is speaking, and what he’s referring to. One way to fix that would be to start the second paragraph with an action establishing Liam, followed by his dialogue. For example, you could move the line about Liam tightening his grip around the narrator’s neck, and use it as the intro to the second paragraph dialogue.
Avoid repeating similar elements
The word “snickered” is followed immediately by a similar synonym, “chuckled.” “Grinned” is also used three times on the same page. Overall, there’s too much grinning and chuckling going on–try to pare that back some.
Watch the word choice
It should be “He ground” his teeth in annoyance, not grounded.
Avoid action whiplash
The focus of the action shifts so rapidly in some places that the reader can become disoriented. For example, one paragraph contains all of the following: (“I chuckled…He ground(ed)…The class was staring…Cedric grinned…I wrapped…”). Too many shifts in focus happen too quickly here. In general, try to limit each paragraph to a single focus of action. It’s possible for a paragraph to contain actions by multiple characters, but it’s hard to pull off.
TKZ’ers, can you add your thoughts and suggestions for our brave Writer today?