Archive | April, 2007

Critiquing Alie

Here’s another critique, this time of Alie’s two paragraph submission:

The monotone voice of the Pastor filled the chapel and pulled Tara’s attention back to the service. Tara blinked heavy eyes in rapid succession before gazing again at Chandler’s hunched shoulders. Any time now he would take the podium and sing his mother’s praises. He could always admit he killed Emma. That would please half the congregation. She glanced at Sergeant Harold Taylor two rows behind Chandler.

Suddenly Chandler moved. Here he goes! Tara flipped open the notepad in her lap, but instead of standing to go to the podium, Chandler turned his head and stared straight at her. Stunned, she returned his gaze. A scowl cross his face before he turned away.

Randy sez: This looks to be part of a fairly dramatic scene (and unfortunately we’re only seeing a tiny snippet of it). I see a couple of time-indicators that I would eliminate (“before” and “suddenly”). I would also break up paragraph 2 into more paragraphs, since what we have here is a quick succession of Motivations and Reactions. (To reiterate, a reference on Motivations and Reactions is on my Perfect Scene page.)

I am also going to insert one emotive reaction for Tara. Finally, there are some sentences I would suggest breaking up. Here’s my suggested revision:

The monotone voice of the pastor filled the chapel.

Tara forced her attention back to the service. She blinked heavy eyes in rapid succession, then looked again at Chandler’s hunched shoulders. Any time now the creep would take the podium and sing his mother’s praises. He could always admit he killed Emma. That would please half the congregation.

Tara stole a quick glance at Sergeant Harold Taylor two rows behind Chandler.

Chandler moved.

Tara’s heart lurched. Here he goes! She flipped open the notepad in her lap.

Instead of standing to go to the podium, Chandler turned his head and stared straight at Tara.

Tara couldn’t move, couldn’t think, couldn’t do anything but return his gaze.

A scowl crossed Chandler’s face and then he turned away.

Randy sez: There are some judgment calls here. I make ‘em one way. Another writer would make them another way. It’s all a matter of taste, so don’t imagine that my way is the only way to do things. Mainly, I want to let you see what happens when you pay strict attention to those pesky MRUs.

Critiquing Caprice

For those of you just joining us, we’re in the middle of a discussion on Motivation Reaction Units (MRUs). For some background on this, see my page on Writing The Perfect Scene.

Last week, I invited people to submit 2 paragraphs for me to critique. I promised to critique some of them. Today, I’ll work through the second submission, by Caprice Hokstad. Here is her original version (and by the way, ya gotta love the name “Caprice”):

Duke Vahn was glad he wore his sword to The Pickled Squid. The weathered wood and broken windows suggested this was not one of Ny’s most reputable establishments. His first step inside confirmed his suspicions. The air reeked of sweat and cheap mead. Men with dirty, unshaven faces looked up from their tankards. A few whistled at his raiment. It wasn’t often Vahn felt so out of place.

“I’m looking for Gil Hocar.” It felt odd not to use “Lord” with the name. He’d always given the poorest of peasants that respect as a matter of course, but after what Timmilina had said, he couldn’t extend the courtesy to this man. “Can anyone direct me?”

Randy sez: This has some good “atmosphere” to it. What I see here is that paragraph 1 has several very short Motivations and Reactions, one after another, and some are in the same sentence. Paragraph 2 is one rather longer Reaction. My hunch is that the segment will run a little smoother if we clump together the Motivations and the Reactions in paragraph 1 so that they are fewer and longer. I’ll try not to do violence to Caprice’s writing in the process. I’ll reorder things to begin with a Reaction, and each change from Reaction to Motivation to Reaction will trigger a new paragraph:

The weathered wood and broken windows of the Pickled Squid suggested this was not one of Ny’s most reputable establishments.

Duke Vahn stepped inside, gripping the hilt of his sword.

The air reeked of sweat and cheap mead. Men with dirty, unshaven faces looked up from their tankards. A few whistled at his raiment.

It wasn’t often Vahn felt so out of place. “I’m looking for Gil Hocar.” It felt odd not to use “Lord” with the name. He’d always given the poorest of peasants that respect as a matter of course, but after what Timmilina had said, he couldn’t extend the courtesy to this man. “Can anyone direct me?”

Randy sez: The original had 3 Reactions and 2 Motivations in 2 paragraphs. My revision has 2 Motivations and 2 Reactions in 4 paragraphs.

Critiquing Yeggy

38 of you were brave enough to post a sample of your writing last week for me to critique. As I said, I can’t critique everyone, but I’ll do a fair number. The first person to post was Yeggy, and I think being first should count for something. Here’s Yeggy’s sample:

I tried to ignore the knocking on the door. If I pretended not to be here, whoever, or whatever was giving me a headache would soon get bored and leave. My life would return to normal. But the knocking didn’t stop and my life didn’t return to normal.

I huddled further under the bedcovers and chewed viciously on my fingernails. From the moment I woke up, I knew something was wrong. The weight and texture of the blankets had been a dead giveaway. Something was terribly wrong.

Randy sez: OK, this is a mixture of showing and telling. The main issue I see here is that we are not seeing the passage of time. This feels “out of time”. That’s a symptom of telling. The solution is to rewrite it using those mighty MRUs. (For a review of MRUs, see this article.)

I’ll take a shot at rewriting the piece. (This is always hazardous, so be warned that I may end up disimproving the section. You can be the judge of that.) I’ll start by showing the implied motivation that preceded the sample. You’ll note that I always put motivations and reactions in different paragraphs.

The knocking at the door came again.

I froze, clutching my sheets and trying not to breathe. If I ignore them, they’ll go away.

Knock, knock!

I huddled further under my bedcovers. Just . . . go away!

Knock, knock!

My teeth clamped down hard on my fingernails. I tasted blood. Go away!

Knock, knock, knock, knock, knock!

The blanket felt like a sandbag, pressing me into the bed. It smelled like a wet gunny sack.

I fought the urge to puke. Something is wrong. Something is horribly, horribly wrong.

Randy sez: The above has the advantage that it’s happening in real time, blow by blow. The disadvantage is that it takes a LOT of words. That’s the nature of showing. You use a lot of words. I’m sure a literary novelist could tell all this and capture the flavor in three paragraphs, but I’m no such beast.

I’m almost afraid to ask this, but . . . did I make it better or worse? And why?

Tomorrow . . . another critique. Maybe more than one.

Enough!

Wow, you folks are amazing! Currently, there are 36 comments in response to yesterday’s call for some samples for me to critique. I will work through a good selection of these over the next few days. I just wanted to let you know that I think I’ve got enough for a while!

So the bottom line is that no more entries will be accepted. I hope to do this again in the not-too-distant future, so if you didn’t post a comment yet, just hold that puppy in reserve for the next time around.

I’m really tired right now, so I’m going to fight off the temptation to critique a couple of samples tonight. The alarm went off at 4 AM this morning. It went off at that hour yesterday too, but there was a REASON for it yesterday. Today, the only reason was that somebody forgot to disable the blasted thing last night. And the only “somebody” available to blame is me. :(

Tomorrow, I’ll do a few critiques. See ya then!