Thanks so much to Screaming Guppy (who, by the way, is coming off of a well-deserved contest honorable mention) for offering up the page for critique.
I think this is a very engaging opening, and there’s some very strong writing here. For a scene that drops us right into the action, there’s enough detail to keep us grounded and knowing where we are, even though it’s an unfamiliar world. I’m very curious about what this humanoid is and whether they’ll catch it (and why they need to), and it’s setting up an interesting beginning. Nicely done.
My main concern is one that comes from a great place, but is actually one of the most common mistakes I see of all: there are parts where it feels like the author is trying just a bit too hard. Just a tiny bit
Too often, aspiring writers try to reinvent the hovercraft when it comes to crafting totally unique phrases, and the writing doesn’t come across as effortlessly as it needs to in order to keep the reader engaged with the story. There are turns of phrase in this page that strive for originality at the expense of (my favorite writing word you know it’s coming here it is): precision. I’m just not sure some of the turns of phrase (“coarse bits of the world,” “broken earth,” “in a peppered graffiti”) achieved more than a simpler phrase or word choice would have in the same place.
This is such a tricky thing – you definitely want to be unique, but at the same time you don’t want to lose the reader. Better to trust in the precision of your writing and the uniqueness of your characters and achieve style through cadence, perspective, and through your characters coming alive rather than trying to do so through complicated turns of phrases, particularly in an action scene.
I also had a few concerns about the Part 1 – is this a prologue? Pull quote? But this is also something that agents see quite a bit of – a quick bit of rug-pulling before the main action. For whatever reason, this type of a beginning tends to be something that critique groups love. They’ll tell you this is a terrific hook, it’s just the thing to begin with, and if you have it at the end of the first page they’ll tell you to put it right at the beginning to catch the reader right away. Critique groups love love love themselves an opening hook.
In my opinion though, it feels just a bit gimmicky, and also represents, I think, a missed opportunity. There is a quick reversal, which immediately builds conflict and intrigue, but it is too easily lost and forgotten when the main action arrives, and feels just a bit superficial. “I hated her” feels a bit overly direct and generic, and there could perhaps be another way to reveal more about the character of the person/humanoid speaking.
That said, I think this is a well-balanced opening and it shows promise. With just a few tweaks the reader will very well engaged and the story will be on its way.
Title: Hound in Blood and Black
Genre: dystopian fiction
The first time I met Kumari, she smelled of gunmetal, blood and death. Her purpose, through chance and circumstance, became to save my life This feels just a tad overwrought to me.
I hated her Missed opportunity to show more about the narrator?.
Last tank of gas, she thought as the engine spit out a black cloud before picking the Jeep back up to speed. It meant one thing: last chance to make a catch. Last chance to eat, drink. To win I like the other last chances, but “to win” doesn’t quite seem like it fits. If this is actually a matter of life and death does winning matter? It may be something that’s explained later, but still wonder if the idea of winning cuts against the life and death stakes.
Last chance to stay alive.
“Harder!” Kumari screamed over the howl of the battered engine good detail. It revved as Bastion punched the gas pedal, dust and pebbles spraying the old army Jeep in a peppered graffiti. Driven by the wind, coarse bits of the world feels overdone (see below) clawed her cheeks and scratched the surface of her shades. She adjusted the bandana across the lower half of her face good.
I would suggest combining the second and third sentences for more seamless description. Something along the lines of: “Bastion punched the gas pedal (no need to say it revved because that’s what happens by default when you punch the gas pedal). Dust and pebbles sprayed the old army jeep, clawed her cheeks and scratched the surface of her shades.”
Despite the murky air she saw her quarry not sure “quarry” feels like the right word choice here – target?, clear against the horizon. Missed opportunity to provide a bit of description about what they’re chasing. Also, this seems to be a dusty, murky place – so how is the humanoid clear against the horizon? Maybe consider a different way of phrasing?.
“Left!” she shouted. The Jeep veered hard to the side, tires skidding and jumping over the rocky desert good. Kumari caught herself with a hard foot to the wheel well, keeping her balance in check don’t think you need “in check” while the vehicle sped across the plain. Her prey, a humanoid, stumbled as the Jeep cut in front of its path Another missed opportunity on description – humanoid could mean anything, particularly when it’s a humanoid that can apparently run as fast as a car. The description is otherwise precise, but not about the most important thing of all. “Damn it, Bastion. Don’t run it over!”
The Jeep jerked again, this time to the right, spewing more broken earth dirt? into the sky. Bastion yelled something back at her, but his words were stolen by the wind this can be your stylistic flair. Of the unique turns of phrase I think “words were stolen by the wind” works the best.
Her throat was dry. Only daybreak, and already hot as hell good voice.
Stephen Prosapio says
$575 worth of education in this blog.
I hope this not only helps make us better writers but better *reviewers*.
Simon Hay Soul Healer says
I'm loving these critiques. They're helping with my writing. I can see how I've overdone the unique phrases. Too wordy!
Claire Robyns says
I'm not mad about prologues, but what I do like are mini-intro's into each chapter. This would have worked great for me if the "Part 1" header had been left out and the format continued throughout the book with a sentence or two introducing the chapter.
Loving these critiques and learning lots
Joseph L. Selby says
I gave this more thought and went back and reviewed posts. I definitely prefer your critique as a separate post.
Also, I will throw my two cents on the pile against humanoids. Unless the zombies are from another planet.
Erica S. says
I usually like little prologue hooks, though for me what really makes it or breaks it is how well the hook tails in to the rest of the story. I think the biggest jolt with this piece was that the hook was in first person the rest was not. Especially given that the person of the hook was not Kumari, and then when the author picks up with the chapter, we're in tight third person with Kumari herself.
Nathan, I'm curious if your qualms with the Part 1 hook was in any way related to the length of it. What do you consider a good prologue bit, and what would justify a writer using one?
Some quick comments:
1) Prologues rock if they work and suck if they don't. Much like everything else in writing.
2) I like the new post for the critique.
3) The one advantage to changing the way you select these, Nathan, is you could ensure that you mix up the genres a bit.
4) Can you eat a Zombie?
This is a great service for writers.
Great energy. I'm not a post-apoc kinda girl, but I liked this.
My two cents – Humanoid = Alien. I might be the only one who associates those two words, but I'd definitely say that humanoid does not mean zombie to me.
That said, I like keeping it a mystery for a bit.
Agree that the hunter would be assessing details about her prey, and that those details would invigorate the scene.
This is something I'd like to read – and I'd especially be interested to see this page again, once Nathan's comments have been applied.
Thanks for posting that excerpt Screaming Guppy. And thanks Nathan for giving the critique. Even though it's not my piece, it helps me see what I need to do to polish up my own beginning.
Also I like this new way of critiquing better. 🙂
Oh – also prefer this as two separate posts. I like things tidy.
I like the new format as well. It helps me see whether I am noticing the same things an agent might.
I'd rather jump right into Chapter 1 than read a prologue. The jacket copy has already lured me into starting a new book. I don't need a prologue to tease me a little more (and delay the story.)
Chuck H. says
Had a thought about how to select the page you critique. You could do like the radio stations and say, "Be caller number seven and get a free, all expenses paid critique of your first 250 words."
Either format works for me.
Oh, what I would give to actually have my work seen by an agent.
Carol Riggs says
yes, if you're "caller #7" or some other pre-specified entry, then Nathan won't be put in the awkward position of choosing. That would be less work for Nathan, which is important (however do you find time to write and be an agent, N?). Although that doesn't help people who work, admittedly.
I just saw that this was posted, and I guess I'm biased, but I remember reading this when it was posted on Rick's Query site (with pages of course) back when it was stated that it was all about zombie hunting.
I love zombies, and this opening, with Nathan's critique is great!
Hey Screaming Guppie, have you thought about sending this to Juno? (now a division of Pocket books) This kick butt heroine might be something editor Paula Guran would like.
If anyone is interested, there's a new writer's community called inkwell that I helped co-found with two other writers.
we're at https://inkwell.ning.com
Yes, it seems like the current selection process has some difficulties….I agree, though, given that Nathan is offering this incredible service for free, selection should be effortless for him.
So, I'm actually having trouble thinking of a better system – one that is absolutely no work for Nathan….
I also don't know if he even wants to change it…..but if he did, I'm not sure what that would be.
I still like the idea of offering it as a perk, though, maybe attaching it to comment of the week (?)….not sure if that would be more or less work.
Oh! For goodness sakes. Nathan already had a solution. Never mind.
I think you can change "humanoid" to "brain-eating biped" and things'll be just spiffy.
I'm ambivalent about the new post method. Either works for me.
I agree for the most part about overwrought purple prose. Why not just say what things are? I dunno, some people are really good at weaving flowery prose seamlessly. I have a somewhat jaded eye to it after years of critting and writing.
I think the action sequence is otherwise well written and conveys a good sense of movement and setting.
Joe G says
So are the humans… going to eat… the zombie?! *_*
the comment about that part 1 was really interesting 🙂