Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Submissions 15, 16 and 17

So I'm combining three submissions into one today for a couple of reasons. First because they were very clean, and if there was a mistake it's one I've already covered in other works, and second, because I'm going out of town for the next several days. My five-year-old is having surgery and my mind will be with her. :)

The entries I wanted to share with you are titled Death by High Heels, Sounding Waters, and Envy.  Really look at how the authors managed to include all the makings of a great story in just a few short paragraphs.

Death by High Heels:

Cops hate it when you vomit all over their crime scenes. That was a mistake I had no desire to make again.  So as I fought the urge to hurl, it occurred to me that they probably weren’t going to be too thrilled that I had trampled all over this one.  Well, crap.  If only I hadn’t answered the door, I’d be eating dinner instead of standing in my neighbor’s apartment looking at a dead guy. 
I’d spent a hell of a lot of time at crime scenes lately.  Even caused a couple I’d really like to forget.  My name is Kimberly Murphy and I’m a private investigator.  In my line of work I’ve seen plenty of weird things but this had to be one of the weirdest.  The guy was just sitting there in the chair.  It would have been okay if not for all the blood and his guts spilled onto his lap.  I tore my eyes from him and asked the question I most wanted the answer to.
“What the hell did you hit him with?” 


Not only did this have tension, but it was also funny. Loved it. 

Sounding Waters:

        Seraphix was used to the awkward stares, but today felt different. From the moment the waterhole was in sight, she had felt a strong presence of eyes on her. She brushed off the paranoia and dropped her buckets on the ground beside the water.
        “You‘re not like they say you are,” came a deep and unfamiliar voice.
        She whirled around and for a brief second made eye contact with the man. She recognized him; she’d seen him here at the waterhole before. Turning her back, she continued dipping water into her buckets.
        “I’ve wanted to tell you that for a long time, but I could never catch you without anyone else nearby,” he said.

Can you feel the tension in just a short amount of words?

Envy:

Ok, I thought to myself, the water isn’t that scary. One toe edged closer to the gray-tinted waves crashing onto the beach. In the early morning it seemed that the entire world was still sleeping, other than the waves, of course. They were lively, dancing across the horizon in restless ripples. When those ripples reached the sand in front of me I was tempted to take a gigantic step back. My dad was terrified of the ocean, even though he’d grown up on the island. I guess he thought it might eat him or something otherwise illogical, considering he was a man of medicine. Doctors should be more rational, right?
Still, he’d shipped me to the island, but not without a stern, pointed-finger warning that I was to go nowhere near the water. Period. Even if I happened to be on fire I should find anything besides the ocean to put myself out.
Sure thing, Dad. Where is this hypothetical fire supposed to come from anyway? Spontaneous combustion induced by being socially impaired?

Again, this one nailed it.

What do you guys notice about these pieces? What did they have in common?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Submission 14 - Eyes of Stone

Eyes of Stone is such an original story idea. It's about a girl, Anaiiya who's trying to sneak into this tower where all these huge gargoyles are to warn them that they're about to get attacked by humans. I found myself asking a bunch of questions, like, "Why is she trying to help the scary gargoyles?" and "What's happened in her life to make her risk hers for these creatures?" and several more. This is good because I wanted to read more to discover the answers. This is what we want our readers to do.

Overall, I found very little wrong with the writing. There were a couple of paragraphs with echo's that could easily be fixed. The whole point of sharing this is so other writers can check for it in their own work. And it really is minor. The author didn't do this in the rest of the pages. Here is the sample:

As she lingered there, a vision flashed through her mind of a monster pressed against the door, watching her with shining teeth and barely-contained rage.  She jerked her hand away as all the old tales of blood sacrifice and demon worship flashed through her mind. 
Anaiiya took a shuddering breath as she set the sacks on the ground.  Perhaps she’d made a mistake after all.  She owed these creatures nothing.  Stupid, to risk her life like this.  To deliver a warning they probably wouldn’t heed.  And why should they?  Gargoyles were powerful and terrifying creatures who thrived on combat, on the deaths of their enemies.  Did she truly think anything could threaten such creatures?

Like I said, minor. The words "flashed" and "creatures" could stay, but it's so easy to fix. If used one more time near by, then I'd definatley suggest other word choices. I'd also fix at least one of the "as" prepositional phrases.

This is what it's like studying the writings of others--looking for what works and what doesn't and then applying it to your own writing. But I never knew what wasn't working until it was taught to me by other authors and agents. They'd show me a sample of what I thought was great writing, but then they'd twist it, cut it, smash it, simplify it and suddenly the sample flowed so much better. It's then that I "got it".

But now I find myself constantly mind-editing everything I read. It's very annoying. Does anyone else have this problem?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Submission 13 - Blackbird

I hope you all had a great weekend! I ate Salt Water Taffy for pretty much every meal. I ran across all these crazy flavors, and I guess you'd say I lost my mind. But I gained some weight, so I guess that balances everything out, right?

This next entry, Blackbird, was really good. You can tell the author has spent a lot of time on the story and writing. Great first pages with tension. The MC had a strong voice. And of course I loved the title. There was only one problem I found, but it may just be my personal preference. Here is a sample:

I was halfway through the guitar solo for "Die Love, Die" when I first saw him. We were playing The Hell Hole in Austin—the most appropriately named metal club ever—when there he was on the second row. I admit, the twenty-something self-confident creep was kind of hot with spiky green hair and strong, angular features. Some might have been into that, but he was staring at me… and that was not a good thing.
The staring itself wasn’t unusual. I wasn’t what you’d call “attractive” (unless short, skinny, and pale is your thing), but I was at least a novelty. I mean, it wasn’t every day that you saw a 16-year-old girl play lead for the biggest metal band in three states. No, the eyes were the problem. His were inhumanly green, and they were on me.
           It wasn’t hard to figure out where I’d gone wrong. My playing was too good to be quite human. And there was the bridge on the last song. I just had to show off, didn’t I?

Not too bad, right? So what do I have a problem with? The word "was". In a lot of the sentences it's appropriately placed, but the word "echoed" like crazy. In fact, the word was used 51 times in the three page sample.

Now a lot of readers might not notice and it wouldn't bother them at at all. For me it did, but I'm uber-sensitive to it. Like in the Sookie Stackhouse series, the author wrote "was" more than the amount of taffy I consume, and although I liked the books, I cringed every time I saw the word. Yet, as most of you know, that series is very popular.

This is where I'd like your opinions. Did the word "was" distract you or was it not a big deal? Should the author try to change some of the sentences or is this simply the writing style?




Friday, May 20, 2011

Submission #12 - Setting the Record Straight

Happy Friday! So my kids have only one week left of school. I'm terrified. How am I going to keep them entertained all summer???

Moving on before I have a panic attack...

Character descriptions. How meticulous are you when it comes to describing your characters? How detailed do you think authors really need to be? And what's more important in your opinion: describing physical features or personality mannerisms?

Obviously both are important, but I tend to lean on the side of mannerisms or the way my characters behaves, like a left eye that twitches when John is angry, or the way Jane picks at her cuticles until they bleed.  I'll drop a few physical features (in my mind I know exactly what my characters look like), but for the most part I like to let the readers create them in their mind.

Setting the Record Straight had some great banter between a man and a woman who haven't seen each other since they were children. There's definite tension; you can tell they like each other, but neither is going to admit it. There was one particular area I felt this piece could use help. This paragraph:

Colin was the epitome of Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome. He had thick black hair, which reached the collar of his leather jacket, and framed his very masculine face.
Colin’s eyes were black, but they could warm with his laughter or turn hard with his anger just as quickly. His jacket, shirt, pants and boots were all black; it made him look – dangerous.


How can the author transform this into a more creative character description? I will offer my suggestions later. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Submission #11 - No Title

The writing contest is officially over. For now. I've had a lot of fun reviewing everyone's work. The rest of the judges have been given your work and will start on it right away. Within two weeks, I will begin to email back your first pages with revisions and comments.

I will continue to post parts of your work to give others the chance to comment. I really appreciate the readers who have posted so far. Their advice is invaluable, and I'm sure the author's appreciate it, too. Keep the comments coming!

The next piece I'd like to review had a Hunger Games / 1984 feel to it. The author had good tension, and I felt the MC's voice. Here is the first paragraph:



I stand looking out of the dirty store front window. It has been almost two weeks since I moved closer to city limits, making one of the abandoned buildings my temporary home. The building was once a small book store there are still books on the shelves but a lot have been burned or torn apart by mice that no longer dwell this close to the city. My Real name is Darcy Tex Raiin. I am 6 foot. I am Eighteen years old and I have only been in the city to collect food and even then I kept my distance. My parents have long ago perished, they where part of the group that came from the city and insisted that they needed to go back every other day and get supplies even though we had everything we needed. I was only two when we left the city and I don’t remember much, but from what I have seen I wouldn’t go to back unless the krobs came and forced me into the city themselves. My parents didn’t last long when I was four they went back pleading with the krobs that they had been forced to leave and held hostage, until know.
The krobs being the unkind beings they where brought them back to the city only to execute them in front of everyone. Maybe they knew what was going to happen and that is why they didn’t bring me with them, or maybe they figured I would be fine not being old enough to remember much from the city.

With this one I'm not going to attempt to tighten the writing here (I'll send my critique/suggestions to the author later). Instead, I want to focus on the structure. This piece is complicated. What makes it that way? There's too much information. For example, in less than 260 words, our main character has been 2, 4 and 18 years old. And by the end of the given pages, the character is 12. Hopping around like this is really confusing to readers.

Next, there are certain details that a reader may not care about. Like her heigth--unless this plays into the story later, and even if it does, can this detail be added later? The part about her parents is very important, but can this also be added later? Instead of telling the reader all about your MC right from the start, let them learn this while on Darcy's journey. Past information appropriatly placed will endear readers to the main character more than just dumping it all at once.

Finally, I had a couple of questions I'd like the author to consider. First, what is Darcy looking at out the window, and why is she standing there? This might be a good place to move the story forward. What is Darcy going to do next? Second, if her real name is Darcy, what is her fake or nickname? For the author to mention this, it must be important and play into the story somehow.

Advice I'd give to the author? Read and study the first chapters of the books I mentioned earlier. This will help you to know how to set up your world, including backstory, while also moving the story forward.

So awesome blog readers, please give your advice on how this author can tighten the sample I provided, and any other advice you'd think would be helpful. Also, I want to know if you like this format of seeing samples from other writers. Is it helpful? Would you like me to continue sharing work or return to my regular format?

Thanks!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Submission #10 - Extraordinary

*** Contest ends at midnight tonight. Get your first three pages into authorrachel@gmail.com ***

This entry was different from the others. It reads as if the story is being told by a narrator, and reminded me of the beginning of A Series of Unfortunate Events. Here are the first two paragraph's:

       There was once an ordinary couple, who lived in an ordinary city, who did ordinary things ordinarily all of the ordinary time. The ordinary man’s ordinary wife was pregnant and due at any time. When “any time” came, she had a beautiful baby boy. As it turns out he was not so ordinary compared to his ordinary parents. His name alone was unordinary, “How about Triumph?” said the woman. 
      As Triumph grew older, people started to notice how unusually talented he was at everything he did, including sleeping. His parents loved him, his super attractive girlfriend loved him, and everyone loved him. The governor even had a special sword crafted for him with “Triumph, not so ordinary” written in Farsi on the blade. By this time Triumph had grown to the age of 18 and enjoyed walking around town with his majestic sword. Naturally all of this attention turned into pride, and all of this pride turned into cockiness. Triumph believed that he could do anything. That is when everything changed.

The writing could use some tightening, but do you see what I mean? It's a story being told, which isn't necessarily a bad thing depending upon how the author wants to market the story. To me, it feels like it would make a great middle grade fiction book possibly with pictures. I loved Triumph's name and want to know more about him. If I were to read the whole story, I'd probably discover some sort of life lesson the author's trying to teach.

Now if the author wants this to be a young adult book, then he would need to show all this through action and dialogue, instead of telling, as the rest of the pages read the same way.

What do you guys think? How should the author market this book?
 
 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Submission #9 - Bleed Well

*** Contest closes tomorrow! ***


Bleed Well begins with a man named Fredrick who has just killed someone or something (the reader is only given the word "corpse"). While Fredrick cleans the blood, he catches himself chanting, "Evil...Destruction...Sacrifice". Creepy right?

An issue I had with this story is one I've had with a few others. And that is the setting, specifically the time period. Is Fredrick in the past, present or future? Or in an entirely different "world" all together? He lives in a village where food is rationed, so maybe future, but people hunt so maybe past, or it could be a world sort of like in Lord of the Rings.

As you write your stories, take a few sentences to give readers an idea of the where and when of your story.

For the most part the writing was good. There was one particular paragraph I felt we could give advice on:

Once his village came into view, Fredrick watched as a white plume of smoke drifted and danced above the kitchen as the sun lit up the valley, and the aroma of the fresh baked bread wafted from the ovens and into the huts lining the river. As if led by the smell, people began to make their way outside. While the bread cooled, most of the adults gathered in the community hut where they chatted with each other. In the temple, a handful of people with specific requests for the gods gathered for a short service before the children began their daily lesson.

First, each sentence begins with a prepositional phrase and the word "as" was used three times. With a little restructuring, this paragraph could be great. Here are my suggestions:

Just over the ridge, Fredrick stopped at the site of his village lit up by the morning sun. White plume smoke drifted and danced above the community kitchen, and the smell of fresh baked bread wafting from the open doors lulled the villagers from the comfort of their huts. They waited patiently, as every person was expected to do, and chatted quietly in the open dining hall (?). Not far away, a small crowd gathered at the temple, clutching their requests for the gods to their hearts, for a short service before the children began their daily lessons.

First, please give your advice on the sample paragraph, and second, share some idea's on how the author can show the when and where of the story.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Submission #8 - No Title

*** Because Blogger was down for two days, I've decided to extend the writing contest until Wednesday, the 18th. Get your first three pages in to authorrachel@gmail.com. Thanks! ***

So far I've seen many first three pages, and it is so interesting to see the different skill levels. I remember being the beginner: using adverbs all the time (...he spoke softly), writing "that" and "as" every other sentence, telling not showing. I've learned a lot, and am still learning. I've read a lot of books on writing, but find that I learn the most from studying the writings of others. 

I'm about to share the work of someone I know personally and who is a newbie. She loves to write and is in the process of learning the technical side. Here is her first paragraph (actually I cut it short):

Part 1 - Beginning
Record breaking highs had graced our sun-drenched valley all summer long; the land had started to turn brown, faltering under the intense heat. It was quite transformed since the beginning of the summer. With first harvest, green abounds in every field, leaving every slope, dip, and incline bursting with new growth. Now transformed by the intense ray of the sun, the land seemed altered, thirsty, changed. It had been a summer of change. I had finally blossomed over the summer, curves began to grace my silhouette, and I melted like a Popsicle in a mid-summer heat. I shed my baby fat layers, and was left lean, slender and tanned from a summer outside. My hair had grown long to the middle of my back and the sun had bleached most strands to a platinum highlight. That wasn’t the only thing that had changed; BOYS had changed for me as well. I noticed them, liked them, and wanted them to like me. I had been busy most of that summer. Camps had seemed to fill just about every week, and I had found a boy at every camp that I fell madly in love with. When there wasn’t a camp we squeezed in family vacations and our annual trip to my father’s various properties in different states. However, there was one week I reserved every year, a tradition I suppose, the last week of summer. 

As you can see the first paragraph is extremely long. By the end of the three pages we read:

Part 2
Damp air rolled off the water, mixing with the scorch of the evening sun. Everything around me seemed to relax, soaking in the cool air, a reprieve from the lingering haze. Crickets started chirping, the smell of fire filled the trail in front of me. The lake was always a hot spot for camping and late night bonfires. Rounding the bend I spotted the source of the smoke, a group of kids from my high school. Most of them stood by the fire, laughing and eating. Definitely not the crowd I hung out with. Speeding up, I hoped they wouldn’t notice me, I hated running in front of people, especially drunk people. Hearing my name called, I glanced over my shoulder in the direction of the fire. Slamming into whatever was blocking the pathway, I fell hard landing on my back, elbows catching me, my hat rolled off spilling my hair to my shoulders. Whatever I hit, turned toward me,
“What the…” his voice stopped short, groaning I wiped my hands on my pants and glared up, my breath stopped. Jaw falling open I stared.
“Olivia? Is that you?”  As if he didn’t recognize me.
I’m the one that should be asking him who he was. Clear blue eyes shone bright against his dark tan skin.

So if you were to pick up this book, which part (1 or 2) would you like to read about? For me, part 2 immediately stood out because of the action and conflict. This is where the "story" begins. Part 1 should be woven into part 2 and spread apart over several pages.  And a lot of it can be cut and simplified. For example, Part 2 could read:

     Damp air skimmed the lakes surface, mixing with the scorch of the evening sun. It felt good against the heat of my skin as my feet pounded the dirt trail in rhythm with the crickets night song. 
     Just then, the smell of a campers fire filled the trail in front of me. I slowed slightly, surprised campers were out this time of year. Rounding the bend, I spotted the source--a group of kids from my high school. Most of them stood by the fire, laughing and holding beer cans. Definitely not the crowd I hung out with. I sped up and hoped they wouldn't notice me. 
     I was almost past when I heard my name called. Instinctively, I glanced over my shoulder, back towards the fire. This was my first mistake, because all of a sudden I slammed into something solid and fell hard on my back. My second mistake was letting my jaw fall open when I saw what had caused me to embarrass myself in front of everyone. 
     "Olivia? Is that you?" John Doe asked, looking the exact same as I remembered. But taller. With bigger muscles. And... was that stubble on his chin? 

I changed the ending slightly. I couldn't help it. I just think it would be great to add more of a voice to Olivia. So writers, what advice would you give to this new writer?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Submission #7 - Valley of Swords

Because Blogger was down for the last 24 hours, I'm leaving this entry open for the weekend, giving readers the chance to comment. Thanks and have a great weekend!

*** Contest still open until the weekend! Email your first three pages to authorrachel@gmail.com ***

The Valley of Swords has some crazy tension right from the beginning, and it kept this conflict all three pages. Let me show you:


Tristan sat on his bed twirling one of his daggers. A tear ran down his cheek. When his father presented him these daggers as a gift on his eighth birthday; they represented love and admiration he felt for his father. He used to be his hero, the man Tristan wanted to be. Now he’s thirteen, and if all goes well tonight, he’ll use them to end his father life.
Tristan walked to his bedroom door, listened for a moment then cracked it slightly, making sure his father wasn’t sneaking down the hall. Tristan was leaving home tomorrow to live at the emperor’s military academy. He knew without a doubt that his father would pay him one last visit before he was allowed to leave this place—this prison he was supposed to call home. Tristan ran a finger down the blade of his dagger, after years of abuse, this time he would be ready for him.

How cool is that? Loved it. The rest of the pages is the poor boy attacking his domineering father and failing miserably. By the end of page three he's preparing to leave for the military academy. I definitely wanted to know more about Tristan and felt instantly connected. Why? Because the author has created a deep psychological connection between me, the reader, and Tristan, the hero. Read my earlier blog post titled "Creating a Relateable Hero" to find out more on how to do this.

The cons of this piece? The writing could be tightened. Here is my suggestion for the first paragraph:

Tristan sat on his bed twirling a dagger, a tear running down his check. When his father presented the dagger as a gift on his eighth birthday, Tristan had felt nothing but love and admiration for the man he thought was his hero--the man Tristan had wanted to become. Now he's thirteen, and if all goes well tonight, he'll use it to end his father's life.


What are some of your suggestions on tightening this up? The second paragraph was a little passive, but I can't think of a way to fix it. My brain is jacked up today; I think it has something to do with not sleeping last night. At all. Ever have one of those nights?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Submission #6 - The Trajectory of Dreams

*** Contest Still Open ***

The Trajectory of Dreams is the cleanest manuscript I've read so far. The writing was superb. From what I can tell it's about a woman astronaut who has snuck into a coworkers room at night to study her while she's sleeping. Here's a sample:


She didn’t so much as flinch at my quiet cursing, now hanging in the air as though the words wanted to land softly and curl up next to the sleeping astronaut. Almost like an afterthought, her arm snaked out from under the comforter. I marked another tic in the appropriate column.

At the very least, she’d sleep well in space. I’d been quiet at first, tiptoeing through her living room and down the hall after picking the lock — a skill learned from The Chin, the janitor at work. He’d liked showing me the best ways to do it, and it saved me from having to experiment on my own. I tempered the hissing shuffle of my feet against the frizzy carpet of her bedroom by lifting and carefully placing my heels and toes. Even the zipper of my messenger bag let out a quiet sigh as it parted. Not a twitch or jolt from that woman.

Don't you just love the writing? The first paragraph reminded of how Marcus Zusak structured his sentences in The Book Thief.  I love it when authors make words feel alive. 

The only thing I felt this piece lacked was conflict. For three pages the woman astronaut is simply studying a sleeping woman. She studies her belongings, notices her Smurf pajamas (funny), and takes notes. I didn't feel any tension. I worry that if an agent were to read these same pages they'd pass because of this issue, and that would be sad because the writing really is fantastic. 

How can the author increase the tension? Maybe the MC can mention that she's not supposed to be there or maybe she can almost get caught by the sleeping woman. It would only take a few sentences to increase the tension.

So here's a question for you guys. When you find a book you think you want to read, how many pages/paragraphs do you skim of the opening before you decide to purchase it?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Submission #5 - Embrol

*** CONTEST STILL OPEN ***



This story had great first pages-a teenage girl at her mother's funeral. You like the character right away, and can feel her "voice". Great tension. But it had one possible flaw, and this is where I'd like your opinions. Here are the authors first paragraph's:


            “Is this Heaven?” I asked.
            My angel laughed, his eyes sparkling in the light from the two moons overhead. “Heaven? You’re messing with me, right?” A warm breeze rustled the field of glowing blossoms surrounding us and tousled his curls. He slipped his arms around my waist. “Okay. I’ll play. No, it’s not Heaven, but sometimes, it feels that way. Especially when you’re here.”
            He leaned in, his scent filling the air around me. His lips brushed mine—
            “Livy?” Patty’s quiet voice jerked me back to reality, from my attempt to escape to a happier place. Even if that world—and the boy I’d come to call my angel—existed only in my dreams. “It’s almost time.”

As you can see, the author began with a daydream. Although it's short, it's still a dream. I've always been taught not to do this. When I first began reading this, I thought, what a cool first sentence. But when I discovered it was just a dream, I admit I was a little let down.  But maybe that's just me. After all, this is an extremely short "dream". Maybe it's not that big of a deal.

So what do you think? Should the author consider a new beginning?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Submission #4 - Soulless

*** CONTEST STILL OPEN ***

I liked Soulless. It had tension right from the start. It's about a teenage girl who's recently wanting to get away from her boyfriend of several months. Readers do not know why, but something bad must've happened to make her cringe at his touch. And as a reader, I definitely want to know more.

Other than a few minor grammar/sentence issues, the writing was really good. I only have one suggestion, and wanted to get your opinions. Here are the first three paragraph's of the novel:


The feel of Aaron's arm lying across Myriam's shoulders made her skin crawl, like little spiders skittering under the fair layer of her epidermis.  She sat rigid, unmoving, trying to minimize any friction to remind her that he was touching her. 

Chatter from her friends sitting with them at the lunch table faded in the background as everything centered around his touch.  There had to be some way to get out from under him.  She glanced at the clock.  Fifteen minutes until the warning bell.  The palms of her hands started to sweat and her heart picked up pace.  Her gaze moved to the double doors leading into the hall.  Leading to freedom.           

"What do you think, Myr?" Aaron asked, bringing her back from her thoughts of escape.  The chattering had stop and all eyes were on her.

Do you see what I mean by tension and conflict right from the start? Very good. But is there a way to make it even stronger? For me there is, but it may not be what the author wants. And that is switching it to first person. I don't often do this with third person stories, but for some reason I kept coming back and rereading it in first person. For me, it made Myr's aversion to Aaron so much more personal.

Here is how it would read in first person:


The feel of Aaron's arm lying across my shoulders made my skin crawl, like little spiders skittering under my skin. I sat rigid, unmoving, trying to minimize any friction from his touch. 

Chatter from my friends sitting with us at the lunch table faded in the background as everything centered around his touch.  There had to be some way to get out from under him.  I glanced at the clock.  Fifteen minutes until the warning bell.  The palms of my hands started to sweat and my heart picked up pace.  My gaze moved to the double doors leading into the hall.  Leading to freedom. 
          
"What do you think, Myr?" Aaron asked, bringing me back from my thoughts of escape.  The chattering had stopped and all eyes were on me.

I had to change a few minor things to make is sound okay in first person, but what do you think? I'm not sure how the rest of the novel plays out, maybe the author switches POV in other chapters so switching to first person may not be realistic, but I think it should be considered.

In addition to your opinion on the above sample, I'd also like to know how you guys decide what POV to use? Do you find one easier?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Submission #3 - Note to Self

Contest still open. Get your entries in!

*** Warning! This post contains graphic content. ***
Just go with this for a moment and hopefully you'll see where I'm headed.


This picture tells a story. A very sad, violent one.  Notice how the bottom of the trap has been chewed off, along with the poor mouse's arm. If the coloring was better, you'd also notice the blood. This isn't the purpose of the mouse trap--it's supposed to kill instantly, but as you can see something went wrong.

What is the first question you ask when seeing this image? Mine was, "Where's the mouse??? Do I have a seriously pissed off, three-legged mouse running around my house? I didn't ask, "Where did this mouse come from? Did he have a family? An abusive father? A drunk mother? Honestly, I didn't care about any of that. I only wanted to know what's going to happen next.

This is how our beginnings must be. We only have a few pages, sometimes even a few paragraphs, to impress an agent/reader. Note to Self had beautiful writing. One of my favorite paragraph's was this, "Gracie furiously began calculating if starvation would allow her to afford a ticket from Rochester to Chicago. Two summations and one divsision problem away fromt he answer, Gracie felt her hope literally snatched from her grasp. A dirty little blonde-haired boy had just stolen her dollar, right out of her hand!"

The only problem I found with this short piece is the back story. There were about 3 - 5 paragraphs leading up to this scene that could easily be taken out and inserted into a later chapter. This is an easy fix, and by doing so you get right to the action that makes the agent/reader want to keep reading. Back story always slows the story down.

How do you guys deal with back story? What do you decide to cut or keep?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Submission #2 - Moving On

I really liked this one. The writing was "dark" and had a similar feel to the book "Thirst" by Christopher. Great book. I have very little to say about the writing. However there was one crucial mistake the author did. Fortunately it's an easy fix. I will post a sample and let's see if you catch it:

She speaks, and all my senses come to awareness. Her voice not only fills the room, but it seems to also echo outside of the room, and inside my own mind. "You," she says, with the air of a queen and also the gentleness of a family member, "are Rosalline. Am I correct?"

"Are...are you an angel?" I asked tentatively. I wondered whether or not my sanity was still intact; in this place I could see an insect and think of it a king.


So what is the mistake? I'll give you guys some time and then I'll post more later.

FYI - Let's get this contest going! Make mention of it on your blog and send everyone this way. I really want our submissions to get good feedback. Thanks!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

First victim, er, I mean hero

***Writing contest still open. See rules below.***

Before I give my critique, I must start by saying I mean only to help. When I first began writing seriously, I'd let my family members read what I'd written and ask for feedback. They always said they liked it, but here's the thing. I knew they were lying. I knew my writing needed work, but I didn't know how or where. Either my family didn't know how to fix the problems (like me) or didn't dare tell me for fear of hurting my feelings.

Once I discovered I couldn't use them for real feedback (other than to feel good about myself), I went in search of other writers who would give it to me straight. I've found them, and I love their brutal honesty.

This honesty is what I want to give to you, because it's what I always wanted. That being said it doesn't mean I'm always right. If you feel strongly about your writing the way it is, then keep it. Just because there are certain rules, doesn't mean you can't dress your baby with sweat pants on his head and a grass skirt. Some people may like that. :)

Let's begin.

I want to start with the first submission I received. It's greatest strength is it had tension right out of the gates. And by the end of the three pages, I'm feeling the MC's stress, and I'm anxious to find out what's going to happen next. Weakness? The writing really needs tightening. I'll give you a sample paragraph:

The sound of her own breathing and her shoes hitting the pavement was all she heard, but she knew he was close. The trees and homes she’d passed earlier were a blur as she ran for her life. The wind hitting her face felt like tiny sharp needles, her throat hurt from breathing in the cold air, and her legs started to burn. The image of the body she’d seen darted through her mind, but all she thought were four words.

Two things stood out to me when I read this paragraph. The first is the passive voice. You know you're "stuck" in the passive voice if you are using a lot of "was's" and "were's". Sometimes these words are necessary, but if you find yourself using several in a row, then you need to change the scene so it's active. The second thing I noticed was every sentence began with "the", which made reading it feel choppy. Often times if writers read their work out loud, they'll catch this kind of mistake. This one's easy to fix.

So readers, how do you think the above paragraph can be fixed? How can the writer change the passive voice to active?

Here's one example. Change the first sentence to read, "Her labored breathing and the sound of her feet pounding on the pavement rattled her ears, but she couldn't stop. She felt him close behind picking up speed."

Even though this sentence is more active, I'm not fond of it because I say "her" three times. It bugs me. I'll think about it more throughout the day, but for now, what are your suggestions?

(When the contest is over, this writer will receive her work back with notes beyond what is written here from both myself and the other judges.)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Writing Contest

It's here, and I am so ready. I can't wait to travel to your undiscovered worlds and make friends with with your BFF's. The rules:

1. Follow my blog. (I solemnly swear to keep it entertaining, informative, and free of lameness.)

2. Email your first 3 pages to authorrachel@gmail.com in PDF or Word. Include the title and genre.

3. Submissions will be open until I feel the judges will no longer be able to give good feedback. You will receive your work back with comments/suggestions.


4. Not only is this a contest, but it's also a workshop. I will be taking random sentences/paragraphs from different submissions and post them for review. (I don't claim to know everything about writing, and that's why I'll need my readers help, too.) I will show what works and what doesn't. As a visual learner, I understand "writing rules" when I see them in action.

5. Who are the judges? Myself, a friend with a master's in English literature, and two other friends who read and write so much I'm convinced they invented the pass time. Our critiques are meant to be helpful, similar to how a writing group would review your work.

6. What's the prize? What? You want something more than just being a follower of my blog? For shame. :) The winner will receive a book of their choice. I'll ship it wherever.

Any questions?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Accomplishments

Last year, I became a runner. I call myself that because I felt it take hold of my soul, much like writing has. My whole life I've hated running and thought it was the most boring, dumbest, useless activity in the world much like bowling (sorry if I've offended anyone-maybe one day I'll become one with a bowling bowl). But then I discovered running outside. I felt like Jasmine riding on Aladdin's magical carpet, and a "Whole New World" burst from my lungs.

Although it was hard, I stuck with it the first few weeks, and I remember the first time I ran four miles without stopping. I felt invincible, like I actually had a superpower. If only I could've found some real crime in my small town, I would've tried to stop it. That's how great I felt. And for every milestone I met after that, six miles, ten miles, and finally a half marathon, the feeling only grew.

That's how writing has been. There's nothing like the feeling of finishing your first novel. It's a major personal accomplishment. I say personal because when you cross that "finish line", there's no one cheering for you, or to shove a Gatorade and donut into your mouth. Only yourself, and for some reason that made the victory so much sweeter because I knew that I had completed it all on my own. Victory was mine.

What are some of the milestones you've met that has helped your confidence grow?