Excerpt Critique: “Legend of Dark Mountain”

by author

Cabin in the foggy woods

Please welcome today’s aspiring author Joy Keeney, ready for a peer critique.

Take a moment to read the excerpt and leave some thoughtful feedback in the comment section below.

If you are a writer whose excerpt has appeared anonymously on Write It Sideways, and now you’d like your name to appear on your piece, contact me.

If you’d like to submit your own writing for critique, keep an eye out for future calls posted on the blog.

Legend of Dark Mountain

Short Story

*Please note: This excerpt is taken from the beginning of the work.

“Yes!” she shouted. Then she remembered she was at the library. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, returning her attention to the article she just found. Twenty-six year old freelance writer Caitlyn Ellis had spent the past week at the Silverton County Library searching through countless sheets of microfiche. She had read hundreds of articles dating back to the mid-fifties and interviewed dozens of so-called witnesses to the legendary Bigfoot. Time and time again she left with nothing. Oh sure, they all had good stories to tell, but not one could give her what she was looking for: concrete proof. Caitlyn was serious. She wanted more than some wild tale and blurred Polaroid of some supposed Sasquatch. Her grandfather told her stories about his quest to find Bigfoot and how he was positive they existed. After his passing, she made it her mission to finish what he started: to find the illusive Bigfoot, or at least someone with solid proof. She also planned to use this story to launch her writing career. She was going to write a book about her experience.

“I need one copy of each of these please, Ms. Shirley,” she said, handing several sheets of microfiche to the silver-haired librarian.

Why are you so interested in these folks?” she asked.

“I’m doing research for a story I’m writing.”

“Are you one of those big shot writers from New York City?”

“No ma’am, I’m not… not yet anyway,” Caitlyn replied. She turned to leave.

“She still lives here. In a cabin near the base of Dark Mountain, if it’s her you’re looking for.” The librarian’s words halted Caitlyn in her tracks.

“Excuse me?” Caitlyn asked, turning back around.

Potential Feedback Prompts

When you respond, you might consider:

  • your immediate reactions
  • likes and dislikes
  • anything that seems unclear
  • language issues
  • point of view
  • voice
  • inconsistencies
  • general encouragement

Thanks!

 

{ 16 comments }

Robert Parks March 23, 2013 at 1:57 am

Very intriguing…draws you right in and leaves you wanting more. Is an interesting topic and a fresh appeoach to pusuing the myth. Much luck to the writer and look forward to seeing more of their work, as well as ending to this story. :)

John Yeoman March 23, 2013 at 10:14 pm

Fast response? It’s enticing but… there’s far too much backstory in the first paragraph. It slows the story down. Weave it into Caitlyn’s dialogue with the librarian. Maybe she gets increasingly frustrated in her search and, with each setback, her reflections reveal a little more of the backstory.

Then the story might start with her muttering ‘I’ve just got to find it. I have to!’ And the passage would end dramatically with ‘Yes!

Guilie March 24, 2013 at 1:05 am

Interesting storyline–Bigfoot! Haven’t heard from him in a while, so definitely a good sign. Like John above, I think there’s too much backstory in that first paragraph. I understand how hard it is to get rid of it, to let it go–I always feel like, “But the reader won’t get it otherwise!” Surprisingly, they do :) If you check out your favorite novels, they hardly ever start with backstory. Yep, I agree with John too on how to fix it: the dialogue with the librarian seems indeed like the perfect opportunity for the reader to get to know Caitlyn, too.

Best of luck with your writing!
Read Guilie´s last article ..A little inspiration… (Ira Glass)

Philip Bromley March 24, 2013 at 1:38 am

My immediate reaction was the rather daunting first paragraph. I find large blocks of text a little off putting. I think that if the piece started with the dialogue with the librarian and in the course of the conversation the introductory information was fed into the dialogue this would get the reader more involved.

I liked the concept of the story and the plot was established nice and early.

I disliked the significant use of the passive voice such as – I’m writing, She was going.
I was also disappointed that the piece involved significant telling and very little showing.

Overall I feel the story has good potential, although rather wordy in places

surinderleen March 24, 2013 at 1:41 am

It starts with exclamation and ends with awe. It has hook. Middle part is boring. However, at end, it grips the reader and reader must want to meet the legend. According to my training, it is a good start.

Okorie Fabian U. March 24, 2013 at 3:08 am

well this is

Lynda March 24, 2013 at 3:59 am

Twenty-six year old freelance writer Caitlyn Ellis had spent the past week at the Silverton County Library searching through countless sheets of microfiche.

The above line takes the reader out of Caitlyn’s pov and along with the backstory breaks the narrative. Otherwise the piece is well written and a good read.

Okorie Fabian U. March 24, 2013 at 5:07 am

The story is exciting and suspensful. It started well. I do not agree to the idea that it should have involved much showing at this stage. There is an appropriate place for writers to display their skills in showing, not at the beginning of a story; otherwise, the reader may get bored. Sometimes, you need to hook the reader first with short and exciting telling, a thing I believe the writer has rightly done here.
Having said that, I think the exposition which started with ”Twenty-six year old …” should have been moved to another paragraph. I might be wrong, so I need other members’ comments here. I think also that the sentence ”Her grandfather told her stories …” should have been put in the past perfect tense to distance it from the present story. Similarly, in the sentence that began with ”After his passing … ” ”he started” should be ”he had started”. The sentence ”Caitlyn was serious.” is unnecessary.The context shows Caitlyn’s seriousness. I found unclear the sentence beginning with exclamation mark ”Oh”. Is it the writer that is commenting or the POV character that is engaged in internal dialogue? If it’s the former, the sentence jarred the formal tone established in the paragraph, and I would prefer a dash instead of the colon before ”concrete proof” to emphasise the importance of the noun phrase to the character. If it’s the later, the writer ought to have made it clear that it’s the POV character that is talking to herself.
Generally, I like the story. It is very clear even though I had to read it a second time to get the setting clearly. I like it’s pace. The exposition is short enough not to disengage the reader quickly.The writer established the direction of the story just in time. Good luck.

Judy K. March 24, 2013 at 7:51 am

The idea for this story is a good one and immediately leads the reader into a potentially unsolvable mystery and a reason to read on. That being said, I agree with those who suggested the first paragraph should be dumped. Backstory needs to be woven into a story like thread – two stiches here, three stiches there. The story should begin with the librarian conversation. However, there are some flaws . . . this sounds like a small town library – she calls the librarian by name like she knows her, yet the librian asks if she’s a big NY writer. Also she gives the librian several pages to copy, but turns to leave a moment later. To me a good opening to hook the reader would be to move your last two sentences to the very beginning.

Marty Sorensen March 24, 2013 at 9:06 am

The number one thing is that it was a very compelling beginning, despite all the writer-technique problems noted by others here. It’s got an interesting story already at the beginning.

Michelle McCartney March 24, 2013 at 9:34 am

Yes. First paragraph too ‘big’ but story is intriguing..

Elizabeth Williams March 24, 2013 at 7:21 pm

Great beginnings to what looks like a suspense novel – I want to read on. The ‘hook’ is there for sure. I wish you well with your writing.

Jackie Randall March 26, 2013 at 1:04 pm

[I like the pace of this. I'm drawn in to the story immediately. My comments are in brackets.]
“Yes!” she shouted. Then she remembered she was at the library. <Instead of saying 'remembered', which is telling me something that's going on inside Caitlyn's head, show me. (Show, don't tell.) E.g., 'Caitlyn cringed and turned to the reader next to her.' “I’m sorry,” she whispered, returning her attention to the article she just found. Twenty-six year old freelance writer Caitlyn Ellis had spent the past week at the Silverton County Library searching through countless sheets of microfiche. She had read hundreds of articles dating back to the mid-fifties and interviewed dozens of so-called witnesses to the legendary Bigfoot. Time and time again she left with nothing. Oh sure, they all had good stories to tell, but not one could give her what she was looking for: concrete proof. Caitlyn was serious. She wanted more than some wild tale and blurred Polaroid of some supposed Sasquatch. Her grandfather told her stories about his quest to find Bigfoot and how he was positive they existed. After his passing, she made it her mission to finish what he started: to find the illusive Bigfoot, or at least someone with solid proof. She also planned to use this story to launch her writing career. She was going to write a book about her experience.

“I need one copy of each of these please, Ms. Shirley,” she said, handing several sheets of microfiche to the silver-haired librarian.

Why are you so interested in these folks?” she asked.

“I’m doing research for a story I’m writing.”

“Are you one of those big shot writers from New York City?”

“No ma’am, I’m not… not yet anyway,” Caitlyn replied. She turned to leave.

“She still lives here. In a cabin near the base of Dark Mountain, if it’s her you’re looking for.” The librarian’s words halted Caitlyn in her tracks.

“Excuse me?” Caitlyn asked, turning back around.

I’d be keen to read more after reading this start to the book. Good writing!

Christine March 27, 2013 at 4:19 am

Hi Joy, I’m late adding my dos centavos , I’ve been traveling. It’s difficult with only 250 words to forfeit giving backstory so we can get insight into the bigger picture. What caught my attention is when you use dialogue, it’s strong. I love your opening sentence and can picture Caitlyn’s face when she remembers she is in the library. I also love the last sentence when she says, “Excuse me?” You combine dialogue and body gestures well. I’m guessing when we meet the old woman in the cabin there is going to be some lively dialogue between them. I like how we know what Caitlyn wants and in a short paragraph you’ve already got me routing for her to get it.
Read Christine´s last article ..“It’s the author’s job to hold the heart of the story in her hand, but to be willing to let the words slip through her fingers.” Jody Hedlund

Sharon Settle March 27, 2013 at 4:25 am

This is the Best excerpt I have read on this site to date.
It has everything the beginning of a story needs to hook a reader.
Well balanced, interesting protagonist with a defined mission within the first fer lines, an exciting topic- Bigfoot, and lots of what next questions.
I really want to read more.
Read Sharon Settle´s last article ..After All I Am The AUTHOR

GS test April 1, 2013 at 1:56 am

Excerpt Critique: “Legend of Dark Mountain”

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