Excerpt Critique: “Not Quite,” YA Fantasy

by Suzannah Windsor Freeman

Afraid woman with hand over mouth

Here it is–our first anonymous excerpt ready for a free critique. Thanks to everyone who submitted, and I’ll open my inbox again in a few weeks.

But first, a few kinks:

  1. Initially, I forgot to ask writers to specify their titles and genres when they submitted. I’m waiting to hear back about the title/genre for this excerpt, and I’ll update the post when I know. UPDATE: This is YA fantasy, which I suspected, and the working title is “Not Quite.”
  2. I apologize to today’s author if the line breaks in this excerpt are different to what (s)he sent. The messages I receive through my contact page appear in one solid block of text, so I did my best to add line breaks where appropriate. In the future, I’ll ask for submissions pasted in the body of a regular email to avoid this problem.

Thanks for your patience while we work through these glitches.

And now, today’s excerpt:

Not Quite

YA fantasy

“I’m Gallin,” he said, holding out a hand.

Cerean didn’t take it. “What do you want with me?” she asked. There was a strange black carving on the shelf next to her that looked heavy.

“I need you to save the world,” he said. Cerean picked up the thing and swung. It rammed into… something before it hit his head and was bounced back with a ringing sound. “That’s not very civil.”

Cerean decided to do the thing she was best at. She screamed and ran away.

“That isn’t how you hold a conversation!” Gallin shouted after her. She pounded on the door then picked up a sharp bar shaped object and tried to pry it open. “I told you, you can’t leave until you talk to me.”

“I don’t want to talk to you! You’re a lunatic.” She slammed against the door. “Help!”

“No one is going to hear you. We’re in a pocket dimension.”

“That’s comforting.”

“Will you just sit down?” The room had changed. They were now in what appeared to be an open air café with a waist high fence around it. A small table was in front of Cerean with two chairs. Gallin sat in one and Cerean reluctantly took the other.

“Fine. What do you want to talk about?”

“Saving the world.”

“That again?”

“It’s kind of important.” Gallin took a bite from a cookie that magically appeared along with a platter full of other sweats.

“So what do you want me to do about it?”

Please help this aspiring writer by leaving a comment with some constructive feedback. Thanks!

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

{ 7 comments }

Suzannah July 1, 2010 at 1:45 pm

Thank you so much to today’s author for volunteering this piece of writing. I hope a lot of people take the time to offer their feedback to help you improve your work.

I know virtually nothing about the Fantasy genre, but there are a few things here that popped out at me right away.

(1) The names Gallin and Cerean both end in the same sounds, and I had to read this passage many times before I could remember which was male and which was female. They both sound like androgynous names, so they could apply to either sex, which made it more confusing. Perhaps consider changing one of the names to differentiate the characters.

(2) “There was a strange black carving on the shelf next to her that looked heavy.” What was strange about it? What made it “look heavy”? This is telling instead of showing.

(3) “It rammed into… something before it hit his head” Not sure why you need the ellipsis, and perhaps ‘something’ could be described.

(4) I think ‘bar shaped’ and ‘waist high’ should be hyphenated (‘bar-shaped’/'waist-high’).

(5) I found the part where the room suddenly changes into a cafe jarring. I just didn’t believe that could happen or why it happened with no other explanation than “The room had changed.” Same with “a cookie that magically appeared.” Perhaps this is because I don’t read Fantasy, but I still think you can explain how/why these things are happening. Then again, maybe this setting’s magical qualities are explained in previous scenes.

(6) Typo: “A platter full of other sweats,” should be “sweets.”

Hope this helps, and good luck with the rest of your work-in-progress!

Susana Mai July 2, 2010 at 3:00 am

Two things, personally:

1. I wanted the first scene before the cafe to be a little more fleshed out. I understand the protag might be confused as to where she is, but where does she think she is? I kind of got a cave feeling, but i have no idea, which isnt comforting. A line or so (or a tucked in clue) would suffice.
2. I didn’t like that the cookie magically appears. It cheapens the effect. Something more passive, i.e. “Gallin took a bite from a cookie that had appeared.” Simply making it more pasive makes it equally more ominous.

Other than that, I thought the intro was not only entertaining and gripping, but also funny (in a good way). The unintentional comedy of the passive, seemingly non-startled Gallin asking her to save the world amidst all this confusion–very entertaining.

LydiaSharp July 2, 2010 at 10:32 am

My initial reaction is that I would definitely want to see more of this story. There are a lot of intriguing elements introduced in just this short snippet: saving the world, pocket dimensions, etc.

Now for the nits:

1. The descriptions are too vague for my taste.
One example: “There was a strange black carving on the shelf next to her that looked heavy.”
I know this is the middle of an action-y type scene, but I’d like to have a more clear visual of what this “thing” is that she’s contemplating to use as a weapon. How is it “strange”? What about it makes her think it is heavy? She swings it in the next paragraph… but we’re not told how she’s holding it, or how she swings. Is it long and she swings it like a baseball bat? Or is it more like the size of a candlestick? These may seem like insignificant details, but as it is above, I have no idea what actually happened at that part. The description doesn’t have to be long and drawn out; choose clear, efficient wording to keep your pace going at a good clip.

2. I’m not clear who said this (but it could be because formatting issues): “That’s not very civil.” I can guess, but with it combined in that paragraph without an identifiier, it confused me.

3. I would mention the cookie appearing *before* he takes a bite of it.

4. I absolutely loved the dialogue. That seems to be your strength here.

Good luck with this! :)

Amy Cochran July 2, 2010 at 9:45 pm

Initial reaction, I want to see more of this story. You’ve hooked my curiosity. What is a pocket dimension? Why does Cerean need to save the world? These are just a few of the questions dancing around my head. Its a very interesting concept.

What I’m struggling with is believability. I’m stuck on a couple of things.

(1.) The black carving that looks heavy. As a reader, I have no idea what this carving is or it’s length. I can guess, it has a decent length because Cerean swings it, but the fact that is rams into something causes major reconciliation issues in my head. For me, ram and swing are at odds. Swing, is an arching movement. While ram, is a forward movement.

(2.) Magic use. Specifically, the changing room and the appearing cookie. Things just don’t happen, even with magic, things don’t just happen. With all magic use there must be rules: cause, effect and consequences. The effect was the room changed and the cookie appeared but what was the cause? What was the price paid for this use of magic? Without rules for magic, the reader is left believing anything can happen and the story becomes unrealistic.

Thanks to the author who submitted this piece and to Suzannah for posting it.

Magolla July 3, 2010 at 1:59 pm

Thank you very much for sharing with us! It’s so hard to immerse the reader into a story with only 250 words, but agents and editors don’t have as much time to peruse slush and every little word counts.

There were many little things that threw me out of the story, but I think deepening the POV of your protagonist Cerean will take care of most of them. Many people will tell you that as a writer you need to see the world from your POV character’s eyes–I think writers need to take it a step further and BE your POV character. This shows who your character is and how she reacts to the world.

For example only:

Cerean glared at the little man who sat cross-legged on a cloud vapor. Who did he think he was, zapping her from her job at the Swifty-Mart? She was about to get an award for Employee of the Month. Now, she was screwed. No award. No raise. It pissed her off.

“I’m Gallin,” he said, holding out his hand.

Right. Like she was supposed to be congenial with this big-headed freak. As she glanced around the almost barren room, her gaze lit upon the black carving on the shelf to her right.

Weapon: check.

“I need you to . . . . ” ETC.

I hope this helps.

Ron Mullins July 9, 2010 at 3:59 pm

The character Gallin seemed to be a little lackluster in her attitude. She didn’t feel emoitional or frightened enough.

Fourie Lelani July 16, 2010 at 10:31 am

My first initial reaction was definately curiosity and interest.

I think this is really a good post and some very good comments. I actually got a few tips between all of the comments that I’ll keep an eye out for on my own writing.

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