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Welcome, Anon du jour! Thank you for joining us this morning by submitting Mannahatta, your work in progress, to First Page Critique. I think you’re off to a great start with what I believe is an adventure novel. Let’s take a look, noting that the original line separation and paragraph breaks were lost in transmission:
The two hunters could see it would not go well.
They sat on the high bank, bundled in skins and eating parched corn, while they watched the canoe approach from the west—from the island.
The rain had stopped, but the gale at their backs was still gusting. Whitecaps roiled the gray, cold waters below them, and there was a continuous roar from both wind and raging sea, not unlike a waterfall.
“Worst time to attempt this passage,” the taller of the two shouted in their Munsee dialect.
The other man grunted agreement while he chewed and pulled his beaver cloak tighter against the north wind.
The tide was turning at this spot they called Monatun, just east of Mannahatta. Here three salt rivers and waterways converged into one channel. Currents from different directions raced and collided. Waves rammed into each other and shot spray high in the air. Deep whirlpools spun and sucked, and a standing wave spanned the treacherous water route.
The hunters could do nothing to change what they knew was coming. They would be silent witnesses.
The man was in front, a woman in back, and in the middle a boy who had seen maybe eight or nine winters. The man paddled furiously and yelled instructions to his woman, eyes wide with fright. The boy remained motionless, as if in his dreaming world, his small hands grasping each side of the canoe.
As soon as they entered the violent stream, the paddler’s efforts had little effect—the canoe was pulled helplessly into the standing wave that blocked its path. The man tried to angle up and over the wave, but it was no good. The heavy canoe flipped like a small twig, its occupants launched into the icy water and swept along with the main current.
The wind then caught the lip of the canoe and sent it sailing against a large boulder that jutted out from the water. It broke into splinters with a loud crash.
The man and woman flailed and tried to swim to shore while being carried on by the chaotic flow. Soon, they disappeared under the water’s choppy surface.
The hunters’ attention went to the boy. He was not helpless like his parents. He was not fearful. He struggled in the water, but with a fixed determination.
He held a rope, and while he bobbed toward the jutting rock, they could see him purposefully . . .
First, last and in between: Anon, you know how to tell a story. Good going. You set a scene and create suspense very well. Even though I was almost certain from their first introduction that the adults were goners and that Sonny Boy was going to make it (and that’s not a sure thing yet) I was wondering how it was going to go down. I wasn’t disappointed at all with what you presented.
It looks like I have made a lot of corrections here. That is no reflection of your storytelling skills. Your work here reminds me in a way of Edgar Rice Burroughs, one of my all-time favorite authors of adventure fiction. He probably wouldn’t even get published now, as he was not a stickler for grammatical rules, but he could tell a story by just picking the reader up and carrying them along, the same as you do. I was swept up by your story which in my opinion matters more than writing a story that follows all the rules in the telling but bores the waste out the reader. Accordingly, please consider the following to be fine detailing rather than a general remodeling.
— They sat on the high bank, bundled in skins and eating parched corn, while they watched the canoe approach from the west—from the island. I’m thinking, Anon, that this would be a good place and time to hint that there are three people in the canoe. You can say:
They sat on the high bank, bundled in skins and eating parched corn, while watching the canoe with three people aboard approach from the west—from the island.
— The hunters could do nothing to change what they knew was coming. They would be silent witnesses. Since they are already silent witnesses, let’s change the tense and also bring the canoe back into the action to introduce what happens next:
The hunters could do nothing to change what they knew was coming. They were silent witnesses as the surging waves tossed the canoe and its helpless passengers.
— The man was in front, a woman in back, and in the middle a boy who had seen maybe eight or nine winters. Let’s introduce them in a parallel fashion:
A man was in the front of the canoe, a woman in the back, and a boy who had seen maybe eight or nine winters was in the middle.
— The other man grunted agreement while he chewed and pulled his beaver cloak tighter against the north wind. I knew what you were saying here, Anon, but the image lept into my mind, almost unbidden, of the gent chewing on his beaver cloak. Let’s maybe add two little words:
The other man grunted agreement while he chewed his corn and pulled his beaver cloak tighter against the north wind.
— The man paddled furiously and yelled instructions to his woman, eyes wide with fright.
This story is told from the point of view of the hunters who have no way of knowing the relationship, 1602 style, between the man and the woman. It could be the guy’s sister. Let’s make the change from “his woman” to “the woman” until we know for sure if we ever do. Also, tell us whose eyes are wide with fright, Anon. If they’re the woman’s, use:
“…to the woman whose eyes were wide with fright.”
If the man’s, use:
“The man, eyes wide with fright, paddled furiously…”
— The man and woman flailed and tried to swim to shore while being carried on by the chaotic flow. Soon, they disappeared under the water’s choppy surface. I don’t like the “soon” here. “Soon” for me implies a fifteen minute rest period. Let’s try “quickly” to further convey the urgency of the situation:
The man and woman flailed while trying to swim to shore but were carried on by the chaotic flow. They quickly disappeared under the water’s choppy surface.
— He held a rope, and while he bobbed toward the jutting rock, they could see him purposefully… I take the sense that the boy is probably not so much holding the rope as hanging on for dear life. I like the sense of urgency you have going overall and want to keep that going, so let’s use a word that does that. For example:
He clung to a rope, and the pair on shore watched him purposefully (tell us what he is purposefully doing) while he bobbed toward the jutting rock.
Just to close…I like that the perspective of the story is from the point of view of the two crusty customers on the bank, who so far are sitting there watching what unfolds. The implication here is that there isn’t anything they can do to avert the catastrophe that is unfolding. They’re not taking any joy in it. They are just stoically watching nature take its course. Fortunately, the boy is not. My guess is that after the Prologue we’ll meet up with the boy as an adult and he’ll be the protagonist of your book. I look forward to finding out.
I will now attempt to remain uncharacteristically and unnaturally quiet as I turn the reins over to our wonderful visitors and commenters. Thank you for joining us, Anon, and good luck with Mannahatta!