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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