Announcement: New posts to resume this week

November 29th, 2010

NaNoWriMo is about done (officially on Tuesday at midnight), and I’m already 2000 words past 50k and still writing.  I’ve officially been pronounced a winner for the 7th year running.  What does this mean for Action?  I’ll be ready to do more action scene critiques ASAP (and I only have one left in the queue, so please, if you’re thinking about whether or not to submit one, I’d love to see it).  I will also get back to posting more material from the book and workshop, so stay tuned!

Critique #10

November 15th, 2010
Dwarven teens Eryk and Kyndra accidentally discover that exiled traitor Boris Cracktooth has secretly returned to their Forge. When they are spotted, Boric sends his two gnome henchmen after them. They realize they can’t outrun the gnomes and split up. Eryk hopes to keep the gnomes pinned down and buy enough time for Kyndra to get away and bring help.
Eryk watched Kyndra until she disappeared into the tunnel. Then he turned his attention back to the gnomes.
They slowly crept upward, constantly scanning the slope above for signs of another attack.[You’ve got a good setup for the scene here and set the location well with just a couple of sentences.]
Eryk grabbed a couple of rocks from his pile and this time took careful aim. He threw at the female first, but the male spotted him and cried a warning. The she-gnome ducked behind a slab of bedrock that jutted from the mountainside. Eryk’s missile sailed harmlessly over her head.[Good Stunt here.]
If I can just keep them pinned down…
He went for the male next. Again he missed, but he kept throwing, mentally ticking off the seconds Kyndra had been gone. She must be almost at the end of the tunnel now. Just a little bit longer… [Eryk seems kind of dispassionate for having to distract the gnomes to protect his friend. Having time to count seconds makes him feel like he’s not very engaged in this. I’d rather see him more worried/excited/scared. Up the ante in the scene by increasing his emotional range and bringing the reader more into his corner.]
Suddenly the male gnome broke cover, racing toward the female’s position. Startled, Eryk yelled. He made a wild throw and heard a soft thunk as his rock slammed into the gnome’s shoulder.[I don’t think a hurled rock should make a soft thunking sound. Can you come up with some different descriptions that sound more painful and brutal?]
Off balance by the impact, the gnome tripped and he fell to his knees. He screeched in pain, clutching his limp left arm. [I think you have these two sentences out of order. The gnome should screech in pain right away from the impact as he’s tripping and falling. Then have him roll over and clutch his limp arm which received much worse than a soft thunk.]
Got him! By the ancestors, I actually got him! Eryk felt this incredible thrill come over him, a rush of fear and elation. Because of me, he wanted to shout, Kyndra was going to get away. And After Uncle heard about this, he’d have to let Eryk train as a warrior.[Now you’re bringing Eryk’s emotions into it, which is great. You just need to do it sooner.]
Eryk stood and lobbed [“lobbed” is another term that’s too gentle. “Hurled” or “flung” would be a better choice.] another stone at the fallen gnome, but the injured male rolled to his feet. With a hiss, he dove toward the female’s hiding place. [“With a hiss” seems a little too general. Is he hissing in pain? Hissing in fury at Eryk? Hissing because that’s what gnomes do?] The two gnomes crouched down behind the bedrock slab. Eryk could see the tops of their heads, but he didn’t have a clear shot.
This is it. My chance. I should go now, while they’re injured and pinned down, Eryk thought, but he hesitated. Maybe he could give Kyndra more time. [This is a better use of Eryk’s rational thought. The immediacy of the combat has stopped, giving him a chance to mentally regroup and consider the safety of his friend.] He checked his stockpile of ammunition.[The funny thing about rocky slopes: there are a lot of rocks. I’d strike this mention.] Only a few rocks left. If I can just get a couple more…
Below, the gnomes screamed.
Eryk whirled back around to see the gnomes hurtling up the slope toward him, all caution abandoned as they leapt from rock to rock in full sight. Shocked, he fell back. He wasn’t expecting an all out charge.
What do I do, what do I do? He scooped up the rest of his rocks and started throwing in a blind panic.
By the ancestors, they’re too fast! I can’t keep them pinned down…not moving together like this. Eryk fought down a surge of panic as he realized that he was in real trouble. Every time he threw at one of the gnomes, the other just kept coming. He didn’t have enough stones. He couldn’t throw quickly or accurately enough, and now they’d already halved the distance. They were coming for him. They knew it too. He could tell by the way their mouths were pulled into savage grins. [This part of the scene doesn’t work for me because of the distances involved. I’m thinking that to hurl rocks as weapons, the gnomes can’t be much further away from Eryk than a batter from a pitcher’s mound. Covering that distance in an all-out charge, even uphill on a rocky slope, wouldn’t take more than, say, fifteen seconds. The way you’ve written the paragraph, you make it seem like it will take much longer.]
I’ve got to go. Now! Eryk broke for the rock ledge. He didn’t feel heroic any longer. The rush was gone, and his heart was pounding so hard he felt lightheaded as he desperately scrambled upward. [You might consider taking the By the ancestors paragraph and cutting it entirely in favor of this one. That raises the intensity.]
When he reached the rock ledge, he looked back. Only 20 feet of slope separated Eryk from the gnomes. The male climbed awkwardly, his left arm still dangling uselessly, but he lagged only slightly behind the she-gnome. This close, with their strange painted skin and brutish little faces, they frightened Eryk even more. Worse still, he realized he’d never be able to outrun them on open ground. [I like the little description of the gnomes you’ve put in here. Are they armed? Are they smaller than Eryk? Is he not a match for two gnomes, one of whom has a busted wing?]
I’m never going to make it.
But he had no choice. Eryk charged toward the tunnel, head down and desperate. His sides burned, but he ran on. He didn’t look back, but he knew when the gnomes hit the ledge, because they let out a triumphant, ululating call.
[You’ve got a good scene here, with intensity and some decent action. I’d like to see Eryk’s emotions involved more in the early part of the scene, and I think you could benefit by a clearer description of the setting and opponents. Overall, try to up the intensity a little and be careful of using words that denote the wrong kind of feel.
Thanks for your submission!]

Critique #9

November 8th, 2010

By the time David was driving back into the garage, I was feeling better. Then the thing was mewling at the front door, getting louder every second.  I opened the door. [I’m coming back with this comment after reading further. If the narrator knows this thing and it’s mewling at the door, why is she opening it?]  The thing had left a black trail on the sidewalk and front step and was reaching up to me with both arms.  Its knees were scraped down to black jelly.  I scooped the thing up and closed the door.

I didn’t think I was going to be able to help at that funeral tomorrow.  I laughed with hysterical relief.  No more cookies for Doreen!  I picked the thing up and held it.  Small blessings and all that.

David came back through the garage to the kitchen.  He opened the cupboard above the sink–the booze–sighed, and closed it again.  Then he opened the fridge and poured himself a glass of something. Probably milk.

The thing hissed and dropped to the floor, creeping on its skinless legs to the kitchen door. [Another sentence or two of description of the thing here wouldn’t be unwarranted. You don’t need to be super-specific, because part of the fear in this type of writing comes from letting the readers picture the creature on their own. But give them a basic framework upon which to hang the skin of their terror.]

“David!” I screamed.  “Stay back.  It’s trying to come through the door.” [That last sentence is really chilling. Added after reading further: So she lets it in, offers it comfort after a fashion, then fights it? That doesn’t make much sense to me.]

The thing nudged the kitchen door with its head, which caved in like a gelatin mold.  The door had latched; the thing beat the door with its head so hard–despite the way it stretched the thing’s skull like a balloon–it cracked the wood around the hinges. [The first sentence in this paragraph is nicely done, but the metaphor in the second one doesn’t work so well.  You might consider leaving it out to just have “The thing beat the door with its head so hard that it cracked the wood around the hinges.” which is a powerful visual image on its own without needing to mention the thing’s balloon-stretchy-skull-whatzit.]

David jerked the door open and kicked the thing across the room.  As it hit the wall, the thing curled its legs under it and sprang at David, sharp nubs streaking toward his throat.

But I’d been fighting that damned thing a long time.  Losing.  But fighting.  I caught the thing, swung it around in a circle, and wrapped my arms around it until it clung to me, shuddering with rage. [It’s a little unclear whether it’s the narrator or the thing doing the shuddering.]

“Well?”  David walked toward me, standing so close I could feel the heat from his body. [This line doesn’t work for me. David seems far too calm in his words and actions. “Well?” doesn’t imply that he’s overly concerned. Neither does him walking and standing. He just attacked this thing and kicked it across a room, and then it turned around and attacked the narrator. He needs to show much more urgency and concern in his actions, unless he has a clear reason not to be either.]

I held on tight and closed my eyes.  The thing jerked in my arms as David tried to pull it away from me, but he wasn’t fast enough this time.  The thing’s claws dug into my throat as David pulled harder.  I felt the claws slipping: [Colon not needed; a comma would be sufficient.]  the blood running down my shoulders.

“Please don’t,” I begged.

“Don’t make me do this,” David said.  “Let it go.”

“You don’t know how bad you’re making this,” I said.  “Let me–” [Consider replacing the “said” dialogue tags with some action tags instead. “Said” feels tame when the characters are fighting, possibly for the narrator’s life.]

“I’m still going to try.”  He pulled on the thing, but it only coiled its arms around me tighter.  I screamed.  David wouldn’t let go.  I couldn’t let go.  I felt blood on my breasts now.  The harder David pulled, the more it choked me, but David wouldn’t let go. [A sentence describing the pain would go well in this paragraph.]

I passed out.

When I woke up, I was covered with black slime, crusted blood, and bruises, but the thing was gone.  My bones hurt, but not as bad.  I put my hand inside my blouse and tried to feel if my heart was still beating.  It was.  I was in the bedroom, lying on the bed–David must have put me there.  We’d made love only a few days ago, and I hadn’t changed the sheets.

David didn’t understand.  The thing would only come back.  I’d made it.  I’d made a deal with it.  I got to live a few more years without being sick, and it would poison everything I loved.  It had come.  It would always come.

I wasn’t going to be able to hide the cuts on my throat–they were fine, like red hairs, but they’d swollen up.  The slime was probably full of something nasty.  I dabbed around with rubbing alcohol, but I didn’t think it was going to do much good.  The cuts went all the way up to my ears and across my chin.  My blouse was shredded almost to the waist.  I took another shower.

Poor David.

No.  It was going to be fine.

Until I realized it wasn’t.  The thing was clinging to the wall above the bathroom door, waiting for him. [Does she notice this after she gets out of the shower or before she gets in? The order of events is a little unclear.]
I started screaming again.  I backed into the corner of the bathroom between the shower and the toilet, knowing I was only going to bring David running.  I was naked but for the towel around my head, screaming nonsense and howling.  My throat was already raw; the screaming quickly died into a painful croak.
Something touched my shoulder. [So something ran down the wall to touch her shoulder? Or is it David? If it’s him, how did she not notice him enter the bathroom and how did the thing not attack him when he did?]


“Don’t try to talk,” David said.

“Where is it?” I whispered.  It was all I could get out.

David clenched his jaw and said nothing.

“It was above the door, it’s back already–“

The thing slammed into the back of David’s head and sliced him across the face with both claws.  David bucked, turned–but the thing had its arms around his neck already. [This is good right here. Simple and effective.]

I beat at the thing on David’s head with my hands.  Useless.  I tried to scream, but it was useless.

David snarled.  His face was already turning red, he was running out of– [Blood? Strength? I’m not sure ending this sentence prematurely works so well here.]

“I told you not to try to help me,” I hissed.  I shoved him out of the way and ran downstairs. [I find this a little awkward given the narrator’s motivation. She wants to save David from the thing, but instead of trying to help him right away at first, runs downstairs to the kitchen to find a knife and then returns. I’d rather see her try to help him more directly at first. Then when she can’t, she has the idea to kill it, but there’s nothing upstairs she could use – not even a nail file. A knife. Yes, a knife from the kitchen and she could cut the thing right off of David. Something like that.]  By the time I’d come back upstairs with the knife, David was lying still on the floor, unconscious or dead. The monster still had its arms around David’s throat and was dragging its teeth across his cheek.

I couldn’t stab it; the knife was too long.

I held the knife behind my back and stroked the thing’s soft head.

“Come on, dear,” I murmured.  “Don’t be afraid.  It’s over now.  You know I’ll do anything for you.  I haven’t forgotten what I promised. I told you to hide from my husband, didn’t I?  He’s not reasonable. But you and I, we’ll find a way to work it out.  Why don’t you come here?” [This leaves me going “huh?”, but maybe that’s because I haven’t read the entire story up to this part.]

Its head swiveled toward me, and one arm reached out.  I grabbed it by the arm–it swung toward me like a monkey to cling to me, sobbing. I patted it a few times, rubbed my face against the top of its head, soft as silk, and used the knife to slice across the thing’s back.  It screamed.  I pushed my hand inside until I found the one solid thing inside:  a tiny heart.  The scream stopped as I pulled it out.  I knelt down to the tile floor and traced a pentacle on the ground with the tip of the knife.  The tile split like butter under a blow torch.

I dropped the heart awkwardly in the center, then set it on fire with a black word.

The thing writhed and smoked in my arms until it fell into ash. I cried.  It was gone.  I cried with relief, I cried with longing, I cried out of betrayal, I cried because my chest was burnt and my bones were falling apart, I cried because I couldn’t stop.
[Very strong ending to this scene. The action is done well, as is the pacing. I like the pacing break in the middle where she thinks she’s safe for the moment. I’m a little unclear on the narrator’s motivation. What are her goals in relation to the thing? She lets it into the house and then fights it. She fights it, then comforts it, then kills it. That inconsistency of behavior makes the scene a little hard to follow. I think overall, the scene would benefit from just a little more description. Not too much, or you’d bog things down, but I don’t really have a good picture in my mind of this thing. I’d also like to see a little more of what the narrator is feeling, since this is a first-person narration.

Thanks for your submission!]

The first workshop

November 7th, 2010

I gave my first ever Action! workshop yesterday to a larger group than I’d expected.  Overall, I felt it went well.  I didn’t babble too much (which, frankly, I’m prone to doing) and managed to get through my planned hour’s-worth of material in an hour.  Afterward, the attendees said they got a lot of good, useful information out of it and I hope that they feel they learned something.

Things for me to work on:

  • Slowing down!  There’s a lot of information to cover but I don’t have to talk really fast to get it all out!
  • Pausing for questions!  It doesn’t do any good to ask if there are questions, wait three seconds, then plunge onward!
  • Figure out what that white board is for!  And when I do, try to write more neatly on it.

The next Action! workshop that’s been scheduled is in January.