First Page Critique of Cruel Sacrifices

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane
 
Happy holiday season, TKZers! What better way to spend the season than partaking in a little murder and mayhem. For your reading pleasure, we have an anonymous first page critique entry entitled: Cruel Sacrifices. My comments will be on the flip side. Enjoy. And to work off those holiday calories, join in with your comments.

 
July 4, 2011/Baton Rouge, Louisiana
“Please don’t do it! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to!” the girl cried.


“Oh really, now?” the killer calmly stated.
  
“Yes, I am so sorry! Please don’t kill me!”


The killer looks into the girl’s eyes. The killer saw only fear and misery there. Then the killer glanced down at the girl in disgust. The killer never thought that they will see the day that this whining creature will be on her knees, begging anyone for anything. The killer remembered when this girl used to hold her head up high, played guys and then throw them away like trash. Party like it was the end of the world. This girl cared for absolutely no one but herself. The girl’s whimpers brought the killer back to the present.


“I’m sorry, okay, I didn’t mean to hurt him!” her tears fell onto the ground. She tried to get up but slipped again on the hard concrete. The killer cocks the pistol, aiming it with perfection on the girl’s face.


“Get up!”


The girl gradually got up. She shook all over. A violent tremor went through her. She glances around at the fireworks in the distance. She yearns to scream for help. She knew what would happen if she did. She didn’t bother to test it. She glanced quickly back at the killer, at the nose of the pistol aimed at her.

What kind of gun is that? She thought. Is that a Glock or a Magnum? She didn’t know the first thing about guns. She sniffled.


“You broke his heart; you do know that, don’t you? He cried that night in my arms. He never went to sleep that night,” the killer told her.


“I’m sorry, I didn’t know. It was just a joke! You have got to believe me!” the girl broke down again.


“It was just a joke to you! My brother’s heart was only a game to you, you wench!” the killer screamed at her, eyes full of rage.


“Please! Don’t shoot! I really did like him, ya know.” The girl wrapped her arms around herself. “It was only a game! We were only joking, please!”


“That was no game! No joke! You humiliated him in front of everybody! You broke his spirit, lost his trust, his outlook on life,” the killer quietly told her, with a pang of sadness.



Comments:
1.) This is obviously a flash back with a clear tag line as to time, date and location. A reader can clearly see what is happening when. I like the use of tag lines to orient the reader in a quick fashion. Also the scene starts with a dialogue line and pulls the reader into the scene right from the first line without too much back story or explanation to slow the pace.


2.) The description “the killer” is used before the killer kills. That begs the question – in whose POV are we? A killer would not usually refer to themselves as a killer, especially if they haven’t killed yet. It implies the killer is something coming from the girl facing the gun. Picky I know, but it drew me out of the intro.


3.) The overuse of the reference “the killer’’ is distracting to me. (It’s used 11+ times in this short intro.) I think this is because the author does not want to identify the gender of the killer, but there are more subtle ways of avoiding gender in the narratives by establishing the POV as the person with the gun, then focusing on what he or she sees (ie the girl).


EXAMPLE:
The killer looked into the girl’s eyes and saw only fear and misery. Perfect. Whiny little bitch probably never imagined the day would come when she’d be on her knees, begging for her pathetic life. This girl used to hold her head up high, played guys and then threw them away like trash. She cared for absolutely no one but herself. Her whimpers meant nothing. After what she’d done, how could she expect mercy?


4.) Nearly the whole short paragraph before this line, starting with ‘the girl gradually got up…’ is in the girl’s POV. I would recommend picking one point of view and sticking with it. I generally select the person with the most to lose. In this case, it may be the girl with the gun pointing in her face. She’s scared out of her mind, maybe only seeing a shadow with a dim light reflecting off the gun. Perhaps the killer doesn’t say much, to not giveaway the gender. But if the author stayed in the killer’s point of view, it’s easier to hide gender. Whatever the reason, pick a character to place the POV and stick with it during the scene, rather than weakening the introduction by ‘head hopping’ between characters.


5.) There is a tense problem throughout. Lines like – the girl cried & the killer stated – are past tense, yet there are examples of present tense, ie ‘the killer looks into the girl’s eyes’ and ‘the killer cocks the pistol’.


6.) There is also a point of view problem. The start of the story appears to be in the killer’s POV, yet later it switches to the girl’s, ie ‘What kind of gun is that? she thought.’ And even in the killer’s POV, the perspective is muddled (ie ‘the killer screamed at her, eyes full of rage’ – How can the killer see his/her own eyes filled with rage?).


7.) In addition, if I had a gun in my face, the last thing I’d be thinking of is ‘what kind of gun is that,’ especially if I didn’t know guns. If the scene is written in the girl’s POV, the author could focus on the physical manifestations of fear, which in turn would ramp up the suspense.


I sense the killer might have more justification than revenge for his/her brother’s embarrassment – maybe the brother committed suicide and there is no going back. Whatever the premise, I have a sense that this author understands pace and tension. There’s a natural storytelling skill here. We have all had to relearn grammar and author craft issues, like point of view. Hang in there, author.


What say you, TKZers? Any constructive criticism for our brave author?

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Angry Enough To Kill – First Page Critique

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane
 

This anonymous submission is called Angry Enough To Kill. I’ll have my critique comments on the flip side. Enjoy!
 
HUNTING SEASON
​Some people say most decisions are reversible, but what do they know? Not this decision. This time, she’s damned if she´ll change her mind and damned if she doesn´t. She’s come too far and given up too much. The time to reconsider is past.
 
In the late Fall chill, she quickens her pace along the forest trail, the ground hard and frozen beneath her moccasins. The winter snows have yet to fall in Jackson, Wyoming, and for this, she is grateful. The sawed-off shotgun digs through the backpack into her waist, and she shrugs its weight to the side, rubbing her hands over her arms to warm them, forcing her fingers deep into her gloves. Her mouth is so parched, her lips cling to her teeth.
 
The fog forms and fades away, only to form again in different shapes, hunters …witnesses.
 
Don’t think. Just get it done.
 
Beside the Snake River, trees pierce the haze. Tendrils of fog slither down the alder standing alone in the center of the clearing, and she imagines them creeping along the ground toward her. Magpies tch, tch, tch. An eagle screeches, wings flapping, and the river churns in the distance.
 
At the side of the clearing, she clambers over a fallen pine, crawling under the boughs she arranged so meticulously the day before. The laces on one of her moccasins have come undone. She ties them, this time with a double knot, loads the tranquilizer pistol and settles down. It shouldn’t be long now.
 
Nothing obstructs her view of the pathway leading from the town to the river. She rests her arms on the log, and waits, like a child playing soldier, but this is not child’s play.
 
Something crawls up her neck. She swats at it; a spider lands on her arm. She coughs back a scream, and brushes it off. After a time, her knees ache and she shifts on the damp leaves, releasing a whiff of mold and decay.
 
A twig snaps.
 
Her hand tightens around the dart pistol.
 
Please let it be Devlin.
 
He’s whistling, a tuneless wheeze she’s heard before, and he carries a plastic bag. She knows what’s inside: a Sears catalog with pictures of children in their back-to-school clothes.
 
Will he take a leak as he did yesterday and the day before? She tries not to breathe.
 
He hangs the bag on a branch of the alder and…
 
 
My Critique:
Wow. Did I love this. This author creates tension and doesn’t over-explain or “tell” the reader what’s happening. The author shows it and also does a great job at incorporating the setting in an evocative way. The first strong foreshadowing (beyond the intro paragraph) is the word “witnesses.” Good instinct, author. In one word, the reader knows the woman is not there to hunt.
 
Use of Present Tense:
I’m not a big fan of present tense. I’ve seen it effectively used for the young adult market, because it puts the teen reader into the moment with more immediacy. If this is a book for teens, maybe the present tense will work, but in general, the use of it throws me from the work. We’ve talked about this on TKZ before. Anyone have comments on present tense?
 
No Name:
This isn’t a big deal in this strong submission, but is there a reason that the character is not named? Sometimes an author thinks it is necessary to withhold a name and I’ve certainly had my reasons for doing it on occasion (mostly no name characters who will be dead by scene end). But it might help the reader to connect with this character if she’s given a name. Something to think about, dear author.

Stronger Opener:

Option 1: The first option to make this start stronger is to eliminate the first paragraph. It foreshadows what’s ahead, but it reads as author intrusion, like a storyteller giving an omniscient point of view. If it’s deleted, the reader can get immediately into the action and still have a subtle foreshadowing doled out in the narrative to come.

Option 2: Tweak the opening lines to make them stronger. Here are a few suggestions:


<<Some people say most decisions are reversible, but what do they know? Not this decision.>>
This line could be stronger if the author commits to the thought from the character’s POV and not make it a generic saying about “some people.”
 
For example:
Most decisions can be changed. Reversed. Not this one. 
 
Some may have the view that the first paragraph isn’t necessary, that the author could lull the reader into the menace of the story by making it seem as if she’s merely hunting before they learn “who” she’s stalking. Although I like the short and sweet foreshadowing of the first paragraph, it could use more punch.
 
<<She’s damned if she´ll change her mind and damned if she doesn´t. She’s come too far and given up too much.>>
These lines are good, but they seem a bit cliché and generic for me. When an idea can be expressed in a cliché manner, I try to find an alternative way to express the thought, but with a more visceral approach.
 
For example:
She’d be damned for what she’d come to do, but damned for doing nothing is worse. He’s given her no choice. Not now.
 
<<The time to reconsider is past.>>
This line seems weak and without emotion, given what the character’s intention is. To pull out my meaning, this time I’ll ask the author an open ended question only they can answer, so I don’t sway the author into my point of view on specific wording. This line needs more punch that foreshadows the danger and commitment ahead.

1.) What does it feel like for her to know she will be a lawbreaker? This isn’t lip service. She’s crossing a moral line and she’ll never get back her innocence.

2.) Does her decision physically manifest in her body? She’s committed to a cause and willing to risk everything.


Sentence Structure:
In the sentence “At the side of the clearing, she clambers over a fallen pine, crawling under the boughs…” That sentence can be made simpler and stronger if the writer eliminates the ‘ing’ from crawling.

Example: “At the side of the clearing, she clambers over a fallen pine and crawls under the boughs…”

I understand the cadence of the structure, but this is something I have to look out for myself. Overuse of ‘ing’ words can force the reader to reread a passage if they get lost in a long sentence and forget what is modifying what.

Also look at the sentence: “An eagle screeches, wings flapping, and the river churns in the distance.” The eagle screeching doesn’t imply the bird is flying. It could be on a branch in a tree. Flying can be assumed, but the sentence would be clearer as follows: “An eagle screeches overhead with its wings flapping and the river churns in the distance.”
 

In critiquing another author’s work, it’s easy to nitpick on word choices and phrasing. We all want to give feedback to help the author make this a stronger submission (in our opinion), but only the author can make the decision on what will be changed. Overall there is a lot to like about this submission. I would definitely love to keep reading. The author has my undivided attention.


Comments, TKZers?

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