Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Day 30: Skipped a Day, But That's Okay...

Yep, I skipped a day, but that's okay because I did a lot of soul searching and all that other mess about making some changes in the way I live my life. I won't bore you with it since this is a blog about my writing journey. Let's just say I actually did some yoga this morning. 

So, here's some writing news. Lydia Sharp (@lydia_sharp) over at The Sharp Angle sent out her critiques and announced the winner and honorable mentions of her contest of AWESOMENESS! It was so helpful to see it in my mailbox this morning. So, here it is, my first 500 words of Dreamweaver along with Lydia's critique.

First Chapter Critique Contest, Entry #3 
Author: Leah Miller
Genre: YA Fantasy

Thanks so much for entering the contest!   
    The bodies floating in the water looked serene as she peered down at them, but Penny knew they were dead. {that is a really awesome opening line.} There were all types of people down there: young, old, men, women, all nationalities. Their arms and legs stretched out, their hair and clothes suspended and flowing around them eerily. In the slight moonlight, their faces looked so pale. They frightened her.  
    Penny didn't want to end up in the water, with them. {the comma feels out of place there. If you want to indicate a pause for emphasis I would suggest using a period there instead and making a fragment.} Her feet barely touched the ocean as she looked out and saw a shore in the distance. It beckoned, and she felt a strange desire to respond. She willed herself forward. She moved at a decent pace, her toes leaving trails on the surface of the water. There was no breeze which Penny briefly reflected on and thought odd. No wind on the sea? It made her feel almost trapped in this wide open space.

      Nearing the shore now, she could see someone standing on the beach. He turned toward her. His white face shined in the moonlight. His hair was black as night and slicked back accentuating a severe  widow's peak. His tuxedo fit perfectly, the water lapping at his bare feet had drenched the cuff of his pants.
     His eyes locked on hers. Images of his face flashed in her mind, bringing with them a stabbing pain. Her hands flew to her temples and she had to fight hard to continue hovering above the ocean. Again and again, his visage forced itself into her mind: utterly cruel, his skin almost translucent showing blue veins underneath. With every assault, his black eyes became angrier, his thin lips forming a disgusted snarl. His barrage ended suddenly and Penny looked up to see him sprinting down the beach.
      He was running toward a small boat, it's one stark white sail jutting up toward the starless sky.

      He was going to come to her. {I would reword this. It's lacking the oomph I think you intended.}

      Fear started to overwhelm Penny and she couldn't decide what to do. {again, lacking oomph. It's too "telly", if you know what I mean. You're justtelling me that she's afraid and doesn't know what to do, instead of letting me feel it.} She was drawn to the shore, but couldn't go there because of him. She refused to let herself join the bodies in the sea. The boat was heading toward her now, quickly. She could see that terrifying man standing at the bow, determined to reach her. Penny's breathe came rapidly, trying to run but unable to move.

      Everything began to blur and fade to darkness. {keep the wording strong: Everything blurred and faded to darkness. See the difference? It's the same thing, but stronger.}

      Penny's eyes popped open and her white, stuccoed ceiling stared back at her. {describing the ceiling like that detracts from the mood, in my opinion. I would just say "ceiling" and drop the descriptions. Those aren't what you want the reader to focus on here. The tension of the viewpoint character is more important.} She raised her head, the muscles in her neck protesting the movement. She had fallen asleep in her computer chair, again. Her heart was racingraced and her face felt hot cheeks burned{"race" and "face" so close to each other is a bit awkward. The other suggestions were made to keep the wording strong.} She got up and made her way down the hall to the bathroom being as quick and quiet as possible{I think you can reword that so it doesn't read so generic. Give me some voice.} She didn't want to wake Maggie.

      In the bathroom, she bent over the sink and splashed some  cool water on her flushed cheeks. As she took deep breaths, she gazed at her reflection in the mirror. Despite the sleep she'd just had, her blue eyes were red rimmed and drowsy as always. {again, that whole final paragraph is dry. You're simply stating the actions, like I'm watching a movie. The great thing about novels is that you can really get into the viewpoint character's head. Feel what she feels. Think what she thinks.}

You started out great, but the more I read, the less I felt. And it was kind of a letdown that she was only dreaming. BUT! Going by the title, I get the sense that dreams are really important in this story, so I wouldn't suggest changing that at all. Just be careful with how you present it. Only start with a dream if you absolutely have to, because most people don't like getting into a fantastical setting like that with an intense event and then... oh, sorry. It was just a dream. It's a letdown. But like I said, knowing ahead of time that this story is about dreams in some way softened that blow a little.

You definitely have a good handle on descriptions. Excellent job with those. And the story itself has piqued my interest. Your writing style is also refreshingly clean.

I'd like to see a little more voice, though. Something that shows me why this character's viewpoint is unique enough to follow through an entire novel. What is it about her that made you choose her to tell this story? That should be evident from the very beginning. In YA, especially, it's important to emphasize viewpoint. It should be prevalent, not just here and there. Try to get something in almost every paragraph that shows me a little glimpse of who this person is on the inside.

Thanks again, and good luck with this!

I love this critique! She addressed so many aspects that I myself was questioning. Her comments on not making it so "telly" made complete sense to me. I realize I need to spice it up a little when it comes to Penny's character right there at the beginning. Almost immediately after these 500 words I believe I do dive into why Penny's point of view is interesting and worth the read. But, after reading this critique, I feel I do need to add more about Penny and how she's feeling at that moment. Not just describe the actions she takes. These first words are supposed to be the thing that hooks a reader so I will work on them and make them really shine. 

I especially like Lydia's last comment, "Try to get something in almost every paragraph that shows me a little glimpse of who this person is on the inside." I'll probably jot it down on a post-it to put on the wall next to my computer. But I'll have to make sure I don't go over board with it. *sigh* Every word must serve the story. 

Lydia is also correct in assuming that dreams are important in this book. They are extremely important, in fact. I knew I was taking a risk by starting with a dream sequence, which I've always thought was kind of cliche. But in my book dreams aren't used as a writing tool to hint to the story or as foreshadowing. They are as much a part of the story as reality is. Does that make any sense?

All in all, this critique is just what I need. I heart honest constructive criticism! Thank you so much, Lydia! 


  1. Love your comments! I'm glad the critique was helpful. :)

  2. I ADORE those two opening paragraphs. Simply stunning. But yeah, a huge letdown when it was just a dream. (Even if it isn't, it seems that way to someone just starting it.) We want to get back to that magical ocean and find out what was going on there.

    So maybe you could say something about "the same dream," or "he would not reach me here," or something to show the dream is important and that we'll get back to that world again.

    Good job, and congrats on the honorable mention!

  3. This is very cool. I'd be interested to read more for sure. I think voice is tricky to find. I try to figure out what is is that draws me to certain people and emphasize those traits when I'm looking for voice.

  4. Thanks so much for the comments, ya'll! Just what I need. I'm always looking for more opinions :)



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