Critique #14

February 12th, 2011

 Tyler flopped under the bottom rail of the corral.  He crawled through mashed hay, horse droppings and mud mixed with animal piss.  He dodged mud-caked hooves.  At the gate post, he mopped his face with the sleeve of his jacket, perched his rifle on a fence rail and trained it on the church.

A glimpse caught in the next lightning flash showed Spencer dart from the well to the buildings on the other side of the square.  Before the thunder stole it away, Tyler heard the notes of a girl’s voice come from the church.

He lifted himself on his elbows, straining to hear more. Luak, I coming.  Every part of the night dripped with shiny rain.  Tyler’s fingers reached up and fumbled for the thongs that tied the gate.

The church doors swung open and the outline of a man stepped out onto the portico.  A match flared.  The man’s hands cupped the flame to a cigarette in his lips.

Dalton Fox puffed his tobacco to life.


Rainwater sloshed from Spencer’s hat.

Fox turned.  A column on the portico blocked Spencer’s rifle sights from all but Fox’s legs.  Spencer lifted his face from the rifle’s stock and looked across the plaza.

Take the shot, Tyler.  End it now.


Tyler let his arm drop from the leather straps that held the gate closed.  He raised the Krag rifle a fraction at a time.

Fox leaned against the building.  An orange dot glowed at his lips.  He stuck one hand out into the stream that spilled from the roof and let the water dance through his fingers.

Tyler’s thumb flipped the safety catch on his rifle.  He gritted his teeth and took up the slack on the trigger.  Wind- driven rainwater flowed down his forehead into his eyes.  Tyler blinked it away.


Spencer rose from his knees to his feet, hugging his face to the corner of the adobe hovel, straining to find a clean shot at Fox.  A spear point of electricity sliced the sky. 

Caught in the space between the brightness and the thunder’s crash, Spencer glimpsed the man in the bell tower point his rifle at Tyler in the corral.

Spencer threw the Winchester to his shoulder and fired.

White flame flared from the muzzle.  Gunshot blended with thunder.  Lead slapped the church bell.  A ghostly gong vibrated through the air.

Fox dove through the church doors.  Spencer’s next shot splintered wood. [I like the writing in this section here, but the pacing feels stilted and choppy because of so many sentence-long paragraphs. Try reading it aloud. Are you pausing briefly after each of those periods/paragraph breaks? If you combined a couple of these sentences into longer paragraphs or multiple-clause sentences, the action would flow smoother and more quickly.]


The rifleman on the roof leaned out of the bell tower, rifle pointing at the flash from Spencer’s gun.  Tyler found the man’s back in his sights and jerked the trigger.

Black blood splattered from the man’s shoulders.  The rifle pitched from his hands.  A lifeless body slumped onto the wet roof tiles. [I might combine this paragraph with the one before as it’s all related to Tyler shooting the man in the bell tower.]

Tyler threw open the gate.  Terrified horses scrambled over each other fighting each other to escape through the opening.  Globs of mud tossed from hooves filled the air.  Tyler grabbed the halter of one of the fleeing horses.  The animal jerked him from his feet and dragged him through the rain-drenched streets into the plaza.  The Krag slipped from his hand.  Tyler let go of the fleeing horse and slid through the mud to the low stone wall at the well. [In contrast to the section above, your pacing here flows very well and the action is described nicely.]

He jerked the Colt from its holster and pointed it at the doors to the church. [Now here is a case where an action rightly deserves its own sentence/paragraph, because this is an important beat.]


“Stay down,” Spencer yelled at Tyler.

Wanting to draw the gunfire of the men in the chapel, he jumped the broken fence that surrounded the little graveyard next to the church.  He dove into the mud behind a weathered wooden cross.

The church doors opened.  A shotgun blasted.  Inches from his face, the top of the cross exploded into an angry swarm of splinters.

Two shots snapped from Tyler’s pistol.  The man with the shotgun fell limp on the portico.

Lightning and its thunder came as one.  The crash shook the buildings and opened the clouds.  Hailstones the size of pistol bullets raked the village.

Tyler leaped from behind the well and charged through the curtain of falling ice for the church.  He kicked the shotgun out of the dead man’s hand and threw himself through the doors.

Spencer clawed in the mud to get to his feet. [It wouldn’t go amiss here to share a little of what Spencer’s feeling. Even a single sentence about his fear would help bring the reader closer to the character.]

Above the din of the falling hail, a gunshot split the night.  A burst of light pulsed at every window of the church.

Spencer slipped and fell to his knees.  “No-o-o, Tyler.”

[Overall, this is a very good scene. You have an excellent sense of the action and I could see it playing out in my mind like a scene from a movie. That being said, make sure you pay attention to your pacing. 

The other thing to remember is that this is a book, not a movie, and you don’t have to keep the reader completely external to what’s going on. Give us a little bit more emotional connection to the different narrators. For example, is Tyler angry and Spencer afraid? You don’t need to pepper the scene with literary-fiction-level introspection, but even a single sentence or clause in each section would help to bring us closer to these two men.

Thanks for submitting your scene!]

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