Critique #6

October 18th, 2010
The following is a fraction of the scene where our (anti)hero thief character first meets our (anti)hero actress character. They’ve both heard stories about the other but haven’t actually met till now. Your basic heist gone wrong. Here they’re fleeing from guards.
The arrow released a long thin rope that reached to five feet or so above the rooftop below. He grabbed the rope, hauled himself back in with Madeleine’s leverage. He unhooked her hands from his belt.
He went first, rappelling down the side of the building. He stood at the bottom, one eye looking out for patrols, one eye on Maddy descending. Must be hard with skirts. She alighted. He grasped her wrist. They ran. A lead weight whistled past their heads. Jackrabbit ducked.
They’re fast.”
Get to the far corner there.”
Where the fire escape railings are?”
You’re quick, for a girl. Are you armed at all?”
Have you forgotten so quickly?”
I’ll meet you there.” [This section begs the use of either some dialogue tags or actions which otherwise identify the speakers. I have to backtrack from “You’re quick, for a girl…” to figure out who speaks first. In an action scene, if the characters aren’t moving while talking, you should give the reader a better sense of where they’ve stopped to converse. Lengthy dialogue sections will slow the pacing of an action scene if there’s nothing else going on.]
Thunk! [What happened here? If you’re going to give us a sound effect, you need to give us a reason for it.]
Jackrabbit stopped, straightened.
What are you doing?”
Keep running.”
All right, we’ve got you in our sight, thief. Freeze!” [I would probably introduce the guards above, as the origin of whatever thunked.]
He stood still. The guards came clomping up, panting. Maddy was at the fire escape. The moon was low, and enormous. [This sentence about the moon doesn’t really belong here unless there’s something very important to the scene about a low, enormous moon. Otherwise, introduce it at the scene’s beginning to help the reader understand that 1. It’s night and 2. It’s still comparatively bright.]
Put your hands up, asshole.”
He raised his hands, held them just above his head.
Maddy clutched the fire escape railing. She saw something round in Jack’s right hand. She inhaled, closed her eyes, and began to descend the metal ladder. Her shoes made small sounds on the rungs, but nobody on the roof noticed.
Frisk him, Lowland.”
For a moment through closed eyes, Maddy saw pink.
I can’t see!”
Get him!”
Where’d he go?”
You imbeciles, he’s gone!”
What the hell was that?” [It seems like there’s some headhopping going on here. First the scene seems to be in Jack’s head and switches to Maddy’s just in time for her not to see any of the combat taking place between Jack and the guards. As a reader, that feels like a cop-out. If you want to have the scene in her perspective, that’s fine, but be consistent throughout and don’t switch part way through. And if you do keep it in her perspective, I would consider having her stay at the top of the ladder to watch the combat instead of hearing random sound effects and dialogue. Let her see how Jack defeats a handful of guards before she descends the ladder.]
Madeleine landed on the wet cobblestones. She flattened herself against the wall, in the darkest nook she could find. She loosened her bodice laces, and labored to catch her breath.
She couldn’t hear him at all, even when she felt his cloak fanning her as he came up beside her. She jumped. Then she could hear him breathing hard, and saw the steam from his mouth on the air. She cleared her throat.
Hello dear, glad you could make it.”
You all right?”
[You’ve got a good start to a scene here. Try to break up your lengthy blocks of nothing but dialogue with some dialogue tags and character action, and consider keeping the same character’s point-of-view throughout the entire scene. Also, consider showing the conflict between Jack and the guards instead of telling about it through dialogue and onomatopoeia. Thanks for your submission!]

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