A brave anonymous author offers up a page for feedback. First, the page, then the feedback (Italics are all mine):
Title: Angry Vines
A man, dirty and thin from living too many months with too little of anything, traveled slowly through the woods. He had been paid to deliver a package, and was traveling by the light of an oil burning lantern. Even though it was early enough now that the first hint of the sun was starting to peak over the ground and bleed into the sky, he’d been told that the cottage was well disguised, and didn’t want to risk missing it.
He was searching for any hint of a building of some sort. A crow that had been circling overhead for some time flew down and perched on his shoulder, cawing loudly in a mocking laugh when the man jumped.
When the man regained his composure he shook the bird off, swatting at it as it flew to a nearby branch. “What did I say about doing that without warning me?” He said with the same tone someone might use to talk to a very young child that just broke a well established rule.
The crow cocked its head and blinked its beady black eyes. The man assumed this was the only response he was going to get and walked past it, holding his lantern up to continue his search. He didn’t stop when the crow finally spoke, hopping from branch to branch behind him.
“I didn’t see a thing up there. Are you sure you didn’t get us lost?”
“I know how to read a map.” He replied indignantly. The man had it tucked under his arm, with the package.
“Don’t take everything I say so personally.” The crow flew back to the man’s shoulder, apparently too tired to keep hopping after him. “Maybe there isn’t even a cottage to begin with. I don’t think the kind of person that would hire a strange man to deliver something would have any problem sending him on a wild goose chase through the woods.”
The man shook his head. “I’m delivering this for a witch, and a powerful one at that. If someone like that wanted to mess with me, she would have done it by shrinking my head or turning my skin green. Not pay me to not deliver a package.”
“Oh.” The crow said. “I didn’t know she already payed you.” And after a moment added “I think you’d look better with a smaller head.”
Hi, It’s Gilstrap again. And now for my thoughts:
First of all, I love the crow. I love the wry sense of humor, and the last line of this sample is perfect. I do hope it’s the end of the scene because that would be a very strong close.
Structurally and stylistically, I think this is a troubled piece, and the trouble starts with the first two words: A man. Unless there’s a compelling reason to keep this character’s identity a secret, it’s very hard for a reader to bond with a pronoun. If at all possible, give him a name. For my purposes here, we’ll call him Tony.
Whose POV is this? Who perceives him to be dirty and thin from living too many months with too little of anything? This would work so much better if we were in [Tony’s] POV, and rather than seeing what he looks like, we could feel his exhaustion.
“Traveled slowly” is a great example of why -ly adverbs are loathed by so many. Trudged, crawled, staggered, wandered and countless other stronger verbs would make a stronger sentence. Consider: “. . . trudged through the woods, his way lit only by the dim light of an oil lantern. Overhead, a crow flew lazy figure eights, no doubt mocking Tony for his dwindling strength.” See below for why I added the crow here.
I don’t think we need to know in para 1 that he’s been paid to deliver a package. Let us know that he’s searching, and let us wonder why.
[A]ny hint of a building of some sort is redundant.
A crow that had been circling overhead for some time flew down and perched on his shoulder, cawing loudly in a mocking laugh when the man jumped. The sudden introduction of the crow is jarring. Stay in Tony’s POV. Consider:
The flutter of approaching wings startled him and he jumped as the crow that had been mocking him landed on his shoulder. When the bird cawed, Tony heard laughter. He swatted it away and it flew to a nearby branch. “What did I tell you about startling me?”
The crow hopped to a new branch, and then another one. “Are you sure you didn’t get us lost?”
“I know how to read a map,” Tony replied.
“And I know how to fly,” the crow said. “I didn’t see a thing up there. And I’ve had enough of this hopping business.”
Tony made no effort to prevent him from returning to his shoulder.
“Maybe your witch friend sent you on a wild goose chase,” the crow said. “Maybe there is no cottage.”
“It’s here,” Tony said. “If she were trying to mess with my head, she could have just shrunk it. Or turned my skin green.”
They trudged in silence for a few steps. “I think you’d look better with a smaller head,” the crow said.
Okay, that was presumptuous of me. I took the liberty of essentially rewriting your piece, but I did it for a reason. By sticking to the moment and eliminating backstory, the narrative becomes more compelling. Let us come to like the characters and experience things through their eyes as the events unfold.
Much of what you expose in dialogue, such as “I’m delivering this for a witch and a powerful one at that . . .” is information that the characters would already know, and therefore would not reasonably be spoken at this time.
That’s my take on the piece. What say you, TKZers? Fair warning: When this blog entry is posted, I will likely not have a reliable Internet connection, so I will probably not be able to interact with other posters.