Critique #3

October 1st, 2010

Backstory: Northern Mexico. The Kid and his amigo Montoya [“Hallo! My name is amigo Montoya…You killed my father…”] have convinced the old scout Ulysses his patrons, the McCullochs, and their cowboys, that is is in their interest to help rescue the Mescalero Apache sisters, Tzoeh and Evangelina, from Cain’s band of mercenaries who sell Apache scalps to the Mexican Governor.  [Fair warning: I secretly love Westerns. I’m liable to be biased in your favor because you wrote one.]

            “¡Hombres! Traigo caballos para cambiar por las mujeres. Men! I bring horses to trade for the women.”

            Cain stepped forward, Colt‘s .44 in one hand, Bowie in the other. Cain glanced back at his men, all ready, behind him.

            “It’s a trap, boys,” Cain said, quietly. “But once we kill ‘im we’ll outrun the others, on their own horses. Grimes, git my horse ready. We’ll take ‘im an’ them seven fresh ones. Git ready ta move out fast. I’m gonna bring ‘im in close.”

            Cain called to Montoya:

            “Esta bien, pase por aqui. It’s all right, come on in.”

            Montoya rode slowly forward, but at an oblique angle, showing the scalphunters the horses’ sides and concealing the Kid, hanging on a leather lattice, cleverly woven by Ulysses, between the last two horses in the remuda. [I like this setup – I can picture it very well.] As Montoya drew near the fire and passed Long Soldier, he called out.

            “Nesistamos las mujeres para pasar, en paz al norte. We need the women to pass in peace to the north.”

            “Now why d’ ye lie?” Cain laughed, “Ye folks ‘er headed south,” Cain raised and aimed his .44 at Montoya’s chest.
[I see from the next paragraph you’ve chosen an omniscient narrative. Have you used that throughout the entire tale? Combat scenes are actually much more difficult to write using an omniscient viewpoint because as readers, we find it harder to connect to characters within the scene because of what I call “Dispassionate Distance.” This makes it harder to keep track of everyone when there are lots of characters. It also makes injuries, deaths, etc. carry less emotional weight with the reader. I’m assuming here your Heroes are the Kid and Montoya (and, I see, several others). Is the Kid the main narrative focus of your tale? Right now you’re headhopping and it makes the fight a little jumbled. Consider writing the scene from their perspective, using a close-in narration. I’m not saying what you’ve done here is wrong, but as readers, we want to know what’s going on with the main characters.]
            High Wolf was facing away from the camp now, studying the arroyo, and the back of his skull blew out toward the fire in a sheet of gore an instant before the roar of Ulysses’ Hawkin sounded. Montoya dived from his saddle to his right as Cain fired and missed. The Kid ducked out from behind the horses, firing both his six guns. Cain took two slugs in his chest and flew backward. The Kid shot Scully between the eyes and Scully collapsed like a ragdoll by Tzoeh’s head. The Kid hit two others in an instant and Montoya rolled, came up on his feet firing and his bullets hit them too, but the scalphunters were firing back shot after shot even as they went down. Montoya’s horse, Relampago, now leapt between him and the fire and another horse reared, screaming, and collapsed. Two other horses whinnied and cried out as they took slug after slug. Other horses bolted all about the fire. A killer named Leach fired at Montoya and his bullet ripped through Relampago’s flank. Leach turned and ran for his horse. The Kid fired, hit him just below the nape of his neck; his head snapped back and he hurled forward to the ground. [You’ve scripted the action very well here. To me, it feels like there’s not enough continuity – a series of quick cuts that happen so fast it’s hard to get any flow to the action. If you’ve seen action scenes directed by Michael Bay, you understand what I mean by that. I think this scene overall would be better served if the action occurred strictly from the Kid’s perspective instead of a more global one. Doing so would give us a better sense of what’s happening.]

            Diego, Ignacio and Ulysses ran forward. Diego and Ignacio fired their Winchesters at Grimes and Dream Walker, both unwounded. Dream Walker fired back. Grimes tried to bridle his horse, unable to mount up and shoot back at the same time. Ulysses loaded his Hawkin even as he moved in. [This is where the issue with omniscient narrative comes into play. I want to follow the Kid and here are some other characters instead. That’s not to say you should cut out action that doesn’t feature your Hero directly. Your Hero can observe what’s going on elsewhere, or try to affect it (say, a long-distance shot), or realize he can’t affect it. All of these things keep the reader close to your Hero, and since stories are about characters, not action, you want to make sure the action doesn’t bring around that Dispassionate Distance.]

            The McCullochs and all their men, mounted, came up out of the arroyo two hundred yards away and thundered forward, whooping. As they drew within range, the cowboys began firing their six guns wildly at Grimes and Dream Walker.

            Horses danced around the Kid and Montoya but Long Soldier, behind them, got a glimpse of Montoya and fired his Sharps. The ball tore through the back of Montoya’s left shoulder knocking him to the ground. Long Soldier charged and drove his body into the Kid’s back as the Kid aimed at Dream Walker. They hit the ground together and both the Kid’s guns flew from his hands. The Kid twisted onto his back and he was able, with both his arms, to tie up Long Soldier’s right arm as Long Soldier pulled his knife up to a striking position. The Kid held on tightly to the immense warrior over him, allowing no striking room. Montoya, his left arm hanging uselessly, staggered forward and dove into Long Soldier, knocking him off the Kid. They tumbled through the legs of the panicked, kicking horses and rolled over the fire. Long Soldier came up on top. Long Soldier would have driven his knife into Montoya’s neck but he sensed the Kid was scrambling for a six-gun. Long Soldier chose not to spare a moment; he leapt off Montoya and sprinted toward Dream Walker who struggled to hold the Pawnees’ rearing horses in the firestorm… [Another benefit to keeping to a close 3rd person narration is that you don’t have to name every single character. In this paragraph you’ve got the Kid, Montoya, Long Soldier, and Dream Walker. Almost every sentence here you name at least two characters, and that’s a lot of names to keep track of.

Overall you seem to have a good sense of action and how to write it. I think you might be getting in your own way by having the “camera” hovering up over the entire fight. Bring the focus in tighter and I think this would be a masterful scene. Watch the multiple-clause sentences and don’t get too heavy-handed with them. Thanks for submitting your scene!]