Excerpt Critique: “The Pied Piper of Hamelin”

by Guest Contributor

Man watching sunset

Please welcome today’s aspiring author Emily Shepherd, 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.

The Pied Piper of Hamelin

Fantasy

*Please note: This excerpt is taken from the story’s prologue.

On the bank of a river, on a large stone, the silhouette of a man sits with a small pipe pressed against his lips. The sounds of the river, flowing past, dampen the pure notes that emanate from the little, wooden pipe, making them little more than a whisper.

The sun is sinking below the high mountains behind the man. He ignores the heartbreaking beauty that seeps out from the sun, through the trees, and is filling the sky. His eyes are closed.

A single sparrow floats down from the branch of a tree near the rock and lands on the ground at the boots of the man. The man’s eyes open. The music stops. The man smiles at the sparrow. He begins to play again, watching as the small bird hops up and down on the pebbly ground.

Out of the bushes behind the rock, a cat leaps silently, startling the sparrow into flight. The man lowers his pipe and tucks it into a cloth case that hangs from his shoulder like a sash. The cat jumps again, this time into the man’s lap. The man strokes the cat’s fur as it turns in circles and lies down.

“At last.” The man says, leaning over to put his head nearer to the cat. The cat meows once and then begins licking its paws. The man looks around at the small overgrown path that leads away from the bank of the river. “A visitor?”

Moments later, a shape appears out of the trees and makes its way along the path.

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!

{ 25 comments }

Michelle February 2, 2013 at 11:56 pm

Hi Emily!
Your descriptions were awesome. It was like you were using a camera. I could see the setting so vividly. I get the impression that the man is relaxed, without worry, pain, or fear. It’s a peaceful moment. We don’t really know more about his emotion and maybe we don’t need to, but if he’s “feeling” something in particular it would have been nice to know. Here are my comments:
1. Is there a reason you can’t say the man’s name? If not, give him one.
2. “…begins licking his paw.” Change this to “The cat licked his paw.” It’s more active.
3. When a shape appears out of the trees and onto the path is the shape coming toward the man? If so, you might want to add the word toward.

Despite these few nits I would definitely keep reading the story. Obviously, we have to know what the shape is and what the man’s reaction will be!
Well done!
Michelle
Read Michelle´s last article ..Kate, a Giant, and a Query Makeover

Emily Shepherd February 3, 2013 at 3:59 am

Thank you so much for your review. Your hints are very, very helpful.
I actually had a hard time deciding whether or not to identify the man first off. When I edit again, I’ll make sure to rethink my decision.
Active and passive (that’s what it’s called, right?) writing is actually the hardest concept for me to grasp, so any time someone can give me examples in my writing, I appreciate it immensely.
Finally, the distinction of direction for my shape wasn’t something I even thought of, but it’s a fantastic idea. Thank you, again!

Pamela Saha February 3, 2013 at 12:12 am

I’m buying this book when it comes out.

Emily Shepherd February 3, 2013 at 4:07 am

;)
Read Emily Shepherd´s last article ..Peacemaking

Don Campbell February 3, 2013 at 1:02 am

On the bank of a river, on a large stone, the silhouette of a man sits …
Good writing but; the first line while poetic led me astray. The word silhouette calls up a false image, one not of a man but of the image of a man so when the silhouette moved and became ‘real’ for the story I was pulled out of the story to go back to see if I miss read the line. You never want to create a chance for any reader to stop and try to figure out what you meant, because both you and your story lose a bit of credibility when you break the willing suspension of disbelief.
True your imagery will carry most passed/beyond this but you want us all for
every instant.
So the “sun silhouettes a man sitting” or “there sits a man” maintain the image without the break in the readers thoughts.
Over all very nice. Good Luck
DAC

Emily Shepherd February 3, 2013 at 4:01 am

This is very good advice. Thank you!
Read Emily Shepherd´s last article ..Peacemaking

Christine Wenzel February 3, 2013 at 3:23 am

Emily, your pacing draws the reader in and gives an impression of a man at peace in his world. I sense this is about to change, something he has been waiting for and this feeling enough to keep me reading.
You’ve done a great job painting the scene without bogging it down. Your choice of words sets the mood perfectly “heartbreaking beauty”
I agree with Michelle’s comments with the small areas to keep the sentence more active. I’ve changed my mind back and forth about whether your first sentence would be stronger by taking out – “on a large stone” If left out I don’t think it would take away from the setting or pace. This comment is purely a personal preference I have about repetitive words and falls into the “go ahead and ignore it – nit category:) Removing it or not doesn’t change the allure of reading on.
Beautiful writing!
Read Christine Wenzel´s last article ..What does lawn bowling have in common with writing? More than you thought.

Emily Shepherd February 3, 2013 at 4:03 am

Thank you. I’m grabbing a notebook RIGHT NOW so I can jot down notes and all these awesome suggestions.
Read Emily Shepherd´s last article ..Peacemaking

Barbara Bates February 3, 2013 at 3:31 am

Hi Emily:
Your words created an idyllic setting and a sense of peace and calm.It’s a place I wouldn’t mind visiting. But…

Who is the point of view (POV) character? If it’s the man sitting onthe rock, then either give him a name or use “he”, “his”, and “him” more. It seems like this part is being narrated, which may be the effect you wanted.

If the man on the rock is the POV character, though, try using deep POV. That is, get inside the character and let us feel what he does. You gave the impression he knows the cat, how does her feel when it appears? Have they been together before? For a long time?

And when the figure comes out of the woods, how does the man feel then? Apprehensive? Troubled? Scared?
Read Barbara Bates´s last article ..Individuality and Disability

Emily Shepherd February 3, 2013 at 4:06 am

When I wrote this, I was kind of picturing the effect that takes place in a movie where the first scene shows an event involving characters who aren’t the main characters to begin with, but the event is important for something that will happen later in the book. The rest of the prologue isn’t much longer than that, but I can see how giving some more emotions to my characters could help carry the scene. Thank you for your suggestions!
Read Emily Shepherd´s last article ..Peacemaking

Ann Marie Thomas February 3, 2013 at 6:30 am

What a lovely piece! Lyrical and poetic, it drew me in. Yet, it leaves questions which tantalize. I’m assuming that who the man is, what he’s doing, and who is coming, will all be revealed as the story progresses. The questions make me want to read on. Well done!

Emily Shepherd February 3, 2013 at 6:59 am

Thank you!!
Read Emily Shepherd´s last article ..Peacemaking

Marty Sorensen February 3, 2013 at 10:52 am

Well, I think with the others that this is an interesting story. There’s an interesting setting, and an interesting person: heartbreaking afternoon sunlight, eyes closed, eyes open, waiting for a visitor. But there are things I find problematic. There are too many commas in the first paragraph. The other paragraphs read much more fluently. – I find it hard to accept that the sounds of the river would make the sounds of the pipe a whisper. Pan pipes whisper, but not a wooden pipe. And that would be a very loud river rushing over rocks. So, the man is just a silhouette, and visually that means he’s far away from the narrator, and then the pipe is not louder than the river, so that also means that the narrator is far away . But then things get closer, i.e., the narrator’s POV changes to close enough to see the man smile, and well, this is fantasy and maybe it doesn’t matter. – I don’t think the light from the sun can go through the trees and then fill the sky. I mean, I found that visually confusing. If it goes through the trees, it’s on the ground creating a dappled effect. – The music stops. But it doesn’t just stop of its own accord. This is a POV issue. The narrator of the story senses the beauty of the scene, the attractiveness for animals of the man, so for the POV of this narrator the music would not stop. The man would stop playing the music.- Passive that should be active: the silhouette of a man sits (a man sits), flowing past (delete, it’s what rivers do), “The river dampens the pure notes into a whisper.”, the sun is sinking (sinks), is filling the sky (fills), begins to play again (as above), watching (just delete), leaning over (The man leans over to put his head nearer the cat. ”
At Last.”, the cat begins licking (licks), the man looks around (delete around). And finally, moments later, delete it because it’s what happens anyway. Sorry for going on too long.

Emily Shepherd February 3, 2013 at 12:27 pm

I’ve been known for using too many commas, so I understand what you’re saying about flow. My English teachers are always hinting that if I can learn to control my commas, my writing will improve.
I will also start working harder on my active writing, especially if I continue writing in this tense. It’s a bit of a weakness for me.
I was sort of going for a zooming-type effect. The narrator begins far away from the character and then creeps inward, but I don’t really know if it worked out that way.
All in all, this was very helpful. Thank you very much.
Read Emily Shepherd´s last article ..Peacemaking

Paul O'Hagan February 3, 2013 at 1:05 pm

“He ignores the heartbreaking beauty”

Show, don’t tell? Why is the beauty heartbreaking? Magnificent, breathtaking, eye-capturing, entrancing, even heart pounding but surely not heartbreaking. Ignoring implies his eyes are open but you then go on to say his eyes are closed. “Wrapped up in the beauty around him, he closes his eyes” would I think, be better.

Not too sure about the use of the present tense here. It is very vivid, but I presume from the title it has a direct connection with the well-loved folk tale which is set quite far in the past. This kind of present tense I tend to associate with Humphrey Bogart (if anyone still remembers him!) style hard boiled detective stories i.e., “The killer slips in through the unlocked back door. Stupid, stupid broad,’ he thinks, an evil grin on his face, feeling the steely coolness of the knife between his fingers. He creeps slowly up the stairs …’ You get the picture.

Emily Shepherd February 4, 2013 at 5:44 am

The setting for this scene has a lot to do with why it’s breathtaking. I thought a lot about how to introduce my character and I finally decided that having a fantastic background would be a sort of… grand entrance for a character that is well-known.
I was actually kind of going for the mystery aspect with the scene. The character is the Piper, but even if you are very familiar with the story, no one really knows anything about him, so I wanted to introduce him in a way that would maintain that suspense.
The prologue is actually a little longer than this, but it was too long for the excerpt, which saddens me because I think the last few paragraphs really give meaning to the way I wrote it.
My dad actually really likes Humphrey Bogart, so I at least understood what you’re talking about a little.
Thank you for your review, I’m really looking for ways to make this scene more potent as a hook and your input helps a lot.
Read Emily Shepherd´s last article ..Peacemaking

rahadabir February 3, 2013 at 8:59 pm

I loved the description. So real. It creates a suspense in the end which is brilliant. Sounds like a gripping story.
Read rahadabir´s last article ..Pencil, sharpener and eraser

Emily Shepherd February 4, 2013 at 5:45 am

Thank you so much. :)
Read Emily Shepherd´s last article ..Peacemaking

Tamara Pratt February 4, 2013 at 9:48 am

Hi Emily,

I heard the other day the opening sentences should invite the reader in, raise curiousity and leave the reader with questions. That could span the first paragraph to the first page.

I think in your opening you’ve invited the reader in by way of the landscape, an image of the man. All very nicely done. But then I wondered, could you raise the story question a little earlier? This is just a suggestion only. The question I see is the visitor, arriving. The cat, the sparrow are all techniques to set the scene, perhaps show some characterisation of a kind and gentle man with patience, and one who has a connection to the cat, so does the visitor pose a threat to this — what the landscape and the context of the story now change with his arrival?

The sounds of the river //telling, how did they sound to him?//

The sun is sinking below the high mountains behind the man. He ignores the heartbreaking beauty that seeps out from the sun, through the trees, and is filling the sky. His eyes are closed. //By his eyes closed, his back to it, he’s unable to see, so by ignoring it, is this a deliberate action? If so, does that tell us something about what he knows, something that might even be connected to this visitor?//

A single sparrow floats down from the branch of a tree near the rock and lands on the ground at the boots of the man. The man’s eyes open. The music stops. The man smiles at the sparrow. He begins to play again, watching as the small bird hops up and down on the pebbly ground.

“At last.” //comma here//

The man says, leaning over to put his head nearer to the cat. The cat meows once and then begins licking its paws. The man looks around at the small overgrown path that leads away from the bank of the river. “A visitor?” //I liked that he could ‘hear’ the cat. I think this could even be fleshed out more and introduced earlier.//

Moments later, a shape appears out of the trees and makes its way along the path. //This may be where those last few lines you couldn’t include raise the questions for us.//

That’s only my opinion, and every reader has different thoughts, so all yours to ignore or use. Overall though well done, and thank you for sharing!

Emily Shepherd February 5, 2013 at 5:21 am

I loved your suggestions. They are very helpful for me to use on my characterization. The cat is my favorite character and I was thinking about making him more prominent in the prologue. We get a lot more of him later on in the novel. Thank you so much for your review.
Read Emily Shepherd´s last article ..The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Tamara Pratt February 5, 2013 at 5:53 pm

Great to hear, Emily. All the very best with your story.
Read Tamara Pratt´s last article ..Glimmer Train Gave Me Hope

surinderleen February 4, 2013 at 11:50 pm

Character seems passive as he is sitting with back towards sun with closed eyes. He is famiiar with the scene. That is why scene does not create twilight impression of sunset. Language is clear but seems not a fluent one. It seems that correction has made. I like the scene but the presentation depicts a sad character. By the way, one can make full conclusion after reading the full scene.

Emily Shepherd February 5, 2013 at 5:47 am

Yeah, I really wish I could have included the rest of the scene. It would have made the purpose much clearer. Thanks for you review.
Read Emily Shepherd´s last article ..The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Jackie Randall February 13, 2013 at 2:16 pm

Hi Emily… I really liked this. It has great feeling. If I was going to make any constructive comment, I felt there were a few too many commas in some of the sentences. I know there are a lot of rules about when to put them in, but try leaving all of them out of a sentence then only putting back the ones you want to either slow the reader slightly, or to clarify something. With lots, it means, that, the reader, stops, slightly, several times, through the sentence. With few or none you can draw the reader through the sentence with a gentle flow. There will be a balance point on each sentence. All the best!!

Emily Shepherd February 14, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Thank you very much. In all my struggles with too many commas, I never thought of taking them all out a reevaluating. Thanks for the tip!
Read Emily Shepherd´s last article ..Lightning

Previous post:

Next post: