Pick A Paragraph, Post It, Let The Critique Wash Over You Like A Wave

I’ve been enjoying watching you folks FIGHT FOR MY AMUSEMENT IN COMMENT SECTION BLOODSPORT — er, ahh, I mean, “Critique one another’s work in a constructive way.”

As such, it’s time for that once more.

Take a paragraph from your work in progress (AKA: “WIP”).

Post it in the comment section below.

Then, go and critique someone else’s.

Critique is not meant to be binding. Nor cruel. Be constructive, not destructive.

Go forth, post, critique.

447 comments

  • He didn’t see her again, just like he hadn’t seen her before, so the surgeon—who had been “so, sooooooo sorry,” about Walter’s demise—stepped off the curb in front of Jane’s van. Maybe Jane wondered what his last words were as his face rocketed toward her with question marks in his eyes and his mouth shaped like an O. Maybe she didn’t wonder anything at all. The first thumb was solid, followed by a rumble thud hop and the van threw Dr. Mason back along the curb like a rodeo pony kicking a barrel. She squinted into the side view mirror trying to focus on the heap she left behind. It was almost dark now and the half light can sure play tricks on your eyes—could someone’s legs really bend that way? It never occurred to Jane to turn back. She didn’t even slow down.

  • This is the opening of my first chapter. I’d love some feedback. My MC has left her homeland and family, after being unable to reconnect with her life after a loss. (There is a prologue)

    Even in the bright sunshine, the air was crisp as Leila and the other passengers scrambled out of the van. Still not used to northern hemisphere springs, she wrapped herself like a babushka in her bright green rain jacket. The wind whisked down the Sanguenay and wiped her dark brown hair back from her face, tangling its waves like a playful child. Leila’s sleepy eyes were opened with the brisk air and the natural beauty that surrounded her.

    Lapping at the dock was water the colour of ink, deep and impenetrable. Cut sharply away from the water were the walls, once deep beneath the ice, now shrouded with uncountable dark fir forests. Here, the road ended, snapped by the icy river running through; without the ferry, there was no way across. But in the spring sunshine, the ripples and waves danced with a liveliness that they breathed into the very air about them. Leila smiled with the sheer joy of simply witnessing a day as glorious as this.

    Belying its large size and ungainly platform-like shape, the ferry strove across the river, casting back the waters in white, foamy sheaves. She was freshly painted and cut a fine figure with the dark skirts of the Sanguenay about her. Her van-mates also walked about, their bodies undoubtedly as tired and cramped as her own. She wandered up to Annelise, their driver, who was languidly stretching and leaning, a lazing sentinel guarding the petty treasures of their belongings. She was replaiting her own nut-brown hair and looked up with a smile at Leila. “Beautiful place, isn’t it?”

    • Hi Smoph, I like your MC’s name (always find this so important!), and I’m interested in the situation. You have some really evocative words and phrases in here – some of which I loved, others made for heavy going. I would say, simplify it. Look at making a lot of the sentences shorter, a lot of them could be sparer without losing anything. e.g The wind whisked down the Sanguenay and wiped her dark brown hair back from her face, tangling its waves like a playful child.’ With this sentence, you could stop at ‘from her face, because ‘wiped’ is such a strong image, or at least cut ‘like a playful child’, because it’s superfluous, and for me contradicted the strength and briskness conveyed by your earlier use of ‘wiped’. Sometimes you could use simpler words, too. I have a wide vocabulary but often using the fancier word slows a scene instead of pulling the reader into it, e.g. ‘the ferry strove across the river’, How about just ‘the ferry cut across’ or ‘the ferry crossed the river, casting back….’. I also found the way you turned sentences around (I don’t know the technical term, but it made me think of Yoda speak) to be a bit challenging, so instead of ‘Lapping at the dock was water the colour of ink, deep and impenetrable.’ I would keep it simple and say something like ‘Ink dark water lapped at the dock.’ and then ‘The walls cut sharply away from the water…’etc . Cheers!

    • Hi smoph, I agree with much of what the others have said. You have some lovely verbs that describe exactly what you are trying to convey in non-typical ways, example: the road was ‘snapped’. Loved that.
      Have a look at your sentence structures closely, (I am one who has been criticized for the same thing as you-so am working on it, too). Often a simple rearrangement makes the sentence have a better rhythym. Example: ‘But in the spring sunshine, the ripples and waves danced with a liveliness that they breathed into the very air about them.’ while the sentence uses beautiful imagery, I am not sure why the ‘but’ is there, I am not sure if ripples and waves can have air ‘about them’ as it implies air all around… and the sentence as a whole work better as: ‘The ripples and waves danced in the spring sunshine, breathing their liveliness into the very air.’

      Overall you have captured the sense of new beginning, the start of a journey, which I believe is the intent.
      Nice work.

      • Thanks so much for the feedback.
        Get so close to these things, you don’t see them so well in your own work. I’ll also add that this is a first draft that’s not finished yet, so I will endeavour to keep these in mind.

  • June 5, 2014 at 5:13 AM // Reply

    I thought this was very well written. The only minor quibbles I had were with:

    1) “she wrapped herself like a babushka”. Using that term gave me an initial impression that the setting was in Russia or someplace similar. I thought perhaps that term was used because Leila was from Russia (you mentioned she’d left her homeland), but you also wrote “Still not used to northern hemisphere springs” which seems to eliminate that possibility.

    2) I had to Google to find out the Sanguenay river is in Canada. (I am one of those overly-parochial Americans.) A fix might be as simple as changing the opening line to “Even in the bright Canadian sunshine”

    3) In the last paragraph, the second sentence uses “She” to talk about the ferry. The third sentence uses “Her” to refer to Leila. Pronoun confusion. That third sentence should probably also be the start of another paragraph. There’s a bit more pronoun confusion in the last sentence; you’ve already used “She” to refer to Leila in the previous sentence, so referring to Annelise as “She” in the subsequent sentence needs changing.

    4) The “also” should probably be edited out of “Her van-mates also walked about”. Except for getting out of the van, up to this point you’ve only described what Leila’s seeing, not what she’s doing since exiting the vehicle.

    Otherwise, good work and very evocative. Clarify the setting a bit and watch your pronouns, and it should be good to go

    • Oo, my pronouns. I try so hard, but I must have been carried away when I wrote these (so easy to do!). Thanks for your help!

      • That is why this is a great exercise. We’re only committing one paragraph so we don;t feel completely dejected when others find the ‘mistakes’ that we would see ourselves if we weren’t so close to it. I am trying to think of myself with two hats, one is the writer vomiting creative (hopefully) stuff on the page and one is the editor cleaning up the mess, trying to look at it objectively. It is not easy.

  • If they thought because they killed me it was the end of the matter, they didn’t know me very well. If I never gave up when I was alive there was no way I would quit now. Of course, the restrictions death puts on you did tend to make revenge a little more difficult. Still, I had to try. Too many lives depended on me, including that of my wife, whom I had never met.

    First time – thoughts?

    • Your first sentences are intriguing and quirky and I like the guy already for being so stubborn. It´s cool premise. With the sentence–of course the restrictions death puts on you.. you.give it a sort of comedic undertone, I would get rid of Still I had to try, because it weakens everything else, including the character. At the beginning you paint him as sure of himself, so trying would not be an option. He´s obviously a do or do not kind of guy. The sentences about how many lives depended on him…mmmm,,,,that one is harder to swallow. Is he the heroic type? I´m not sure about the last sentence, I think I need more info to make this real for me. It does keep you asking questions though.

  • My sister visits my store exactly once a week, on Thursdays around noon.

    Each time she floats through the doors from Main Street, she stretches her face into an over-exaggerated smile and widens her eyes, as if she just decided to come in off a whim, and it’s the most thrilling and surprising whim she’s had since she decided to dye her hair mahogany her sophomore year of high school. I pretend to be surprised at every arrival, and make a caricature face as well, mostly because I would hate for her to know I’ve caught onto her pattern, but also because I’m not so sure she’s realized herself that the pattern exists. I’m the one with a degree in computer science; it’s my job to figure these things out first.

  • Last two paragraphs of Chapter 1 of a recent wip.

    It took only a moment for the shock to settle in and for my heart to thrash against my ribcage. My dad placed me onto the step and I didn’t feel my feet hit the ground. I felt as though I was hovering. This person was pale, white like the snow outside. He had my father’s dark hair, my mother’s pointed nose and her full lips. He was beautiful, youthful yet his face remained still, void of all life. He wore a navy suit and red tie with his hair pushed to the side, newly cut.
    As I stared at him I thought of all those times he’d charged through the house, voice raised and words sharp, eyes manically scouring the room. I always ran away from him when he was having a fit, which was almost every time he showed his face. I remember the redness of my father’s face as he swore at his only son, and the moments when my mother would fall to her knees from exhaustion, unable to bear the rage of her child. My brother, the beautiful boy who had so much promise; the tornado boy that broke the hearts of my parents. He was the one who left the void that I knew, from that day on, I could never fill.

  • A little late to the party, but here goes.

    So this was how her mother died. Somehow the girl thought it would be scarier.
    Not that Fray didn’t fear death. Her eyes were still red and swollen from the tears that came when she realized that like her mother, she too had wandered out of her dream, that she would never find her way back to the waking world. Yes, she was afraid, but when her mother warned her of the slow decay that comes to lost souls, Fray imagined being swallowed by an empty darkness. Nothing like this.
    Here, the trees grew down from the clouds. Their black roots crossed high above her, breaking the sunset smears of purples and oranges into sections like stained glass. At her feet, the gnarled branches joined into a tangle so thick she could easily traverse them if she was careful with her steps. Fray thought she might even find a leafy crown if she climbed down into that knot of limbs, but the light did not reach there, and she was afraid to leave the sky.
    More than that, Fray sensed the things gathering in the dark below, heard them whisper to each other in their strange tongue, felt their eyes on her. The arum. Her mother had warned her of them, too. Her chest tightened at the thought of the creatures and she twisted her fingers into her nightgown, determined to quell the panic rising within.

  • In the first paragraph of my WIP I attempted to establish setting, the reason the character is in the setting, and the relationship between character and setting. I think I’m a bit late to the party but if any still here have at it.

    The sun peeked over the horizon as it warmed her back. She looked onward from the merchant vessel she was hired-out to as a guard. She imagined she was a small black blemish upon the otherwise magnificent light. She imaged her silhouette covered the entirety of De Lapierren, the city from stone, like a long-awaited return of dark times. She imagined the city gates hungry for its child return, hungry for the inevitable ugly reunion. Lashina Pasan imagined all these things and grimaced. You old grey bastard, you’ll kill me yet. (this last sentence is suppose to be italicized as to indicate internal thoughts)

    • Hi BDG, there are still some lurkers I think. I am new to this blog so am trying to follow as much as possible.
      I liked the last sentence as it established the question of what is going on and makes one curious as to who the old grey bastard is. The first three sentences establish the setting and her self-reflection well, I think.
      I found myself tripping over some things, so am including them with the reminder it is only my opinion as I am not published, am not an editor or agent etc.

      1. ‘She looked onward from the merchant vessel she was hired-out to as a guard.’ how about: ‘She looked onward from the merchant vessel she had been hired to guard.’ Hired-out to as a guard seemed awkward to me.

      2. ‘She imaged her silhouette covered the entirety of De Lapierren, the city from stone, like a long-awaited return of dark times.’ imaged? A typo or on purpose? If on purpose it interrupts the flow of her other imaginings. I realize that ‘the city from stone’ is what ‘De Laperren’ kinda means, perhaps the phrase should also be in Caps to ensure any reader gets that, especially if this is the first paragraph.

      3. ‘She imagined the city gates hungry for its child return, hungry for the inevitable ugly reunion’, again probably a typo: ‘its child return’ should possibly be ‘its child’s return’. Perhaps try different words for the second (or first) ‘hungry’. I think a better word can also be found for ugly. How is a reunion ugly, exactly? Is the reunion itself inevitable or will it be inevitably ugly?
      Something like: She imagined the city gates hungry for its child return, starved for the inevitable foul reunion.

      Again just my opinion.

      • Thank, I don’t have the best grammar (as posted above, and generally even after a look over there is still problems), but yeah basically this is what I was looking for.

  • This is really pretty and I would *totally* get drawn into a story written in this voice, but if this is your opening paragraph it suffers from the same thing my editor has noodle-lashed me for more than once: the very first paragraph–even the very first sentence, if you can–has to have a strong hook that grabs the reader and doesn’t let go. Dynamic action is best, but it doesn’t have to be a giant thing. It can be as simple as an intriguing snip of conversation that gives the reader a glimpse of the characters and why it’s important to care about them, but the opening has to ask a strong question that makes the reader not want to put it down. This paragraph works nicely for exposition and can still come in relatively early in the story, but I don’t think it should be immediately first (just my $0.02, feel free to discard this opinion entirely). At its heart, this paragraph is Lashina standing on the deck of a ship and thinking, which is a bit too passive as an opening. My editor made me chop out a whole second chapter because it did the same thing, introducing a main character who was doing little more than thinking about his dealings with another one. After the revision he doesn’t enter the story until a few chapters later, but when he does it’s with much more flair, and it changed the whole opening arc for the better.

    • Thank you very much, I have a problem with starting chapters with internal dialogue and think to establish character (I’m a big character person) but taking your advise I’ve decide to start with the imagery of the ship pulling up near the city, not super dynamic, but it’s better than nothing haha.

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