Here is our second anonymous excerpt ready for critique.
The first got some excellent reader feedback, and I wish the author all the best with his/her writing.
Please leave some feedback for the author in the comments section below.
The sun had barely crested the horizon when Emily Martin’s eyes snapped open. A chill ran over her body as she sensed his pain and fear. Her dark eyes filled with tears. Emily had no choice, she had to go to him. She couldn’t let him suffer alone.
Emily crawled to the edge of the bed she shared with her older brother Daniel. Carefully, Emily wriggled down the side of the bed ’till her feet touched the cool hardwood floors. She held her breath as Daniel rolled over. He would yell for their mother if he knew she was sneaking out of the house again. Daniel murmured something and stilled. Emily sighed with relief. Satisfied that he was still asleep, she tip-toed toward the front door. When she reached the living room she could hear the contented sounds of her father’s humming. She eased forward to peer around the corner. Casey was busy slicing bacon as he fried several eggs. Emily didn’t know where her mother was but didn’t dare wait a second longer. Darting on clawed tip-toes for the front door, she gently pulled it open and slipped out into the frost covered dawn.
Emily crouched next to the front door and glanced around to be sure she hadn’t been observed. The air was cool as it whipped through Emily’s long ebony tresses. The obsidian feathers that protruded from her golden skin rippled in the wind and caused her to shiver. Glancing around once more, Emily darted for the forest and vanished into the shadows.
Potential Feedback Prompts
When you respond, you might consider:
- your immediate reactions
- likes and dislikes
- anything that seems unclear
- language issues
- point of view
- general encouragement
Thanks for your help, everyone. I’ll put out another call for submissions very soon.
Join the discussion
Hello fellow fantasy author!
Very intriguing beginning. I’ll split this into a pros and cons list.
— The second paragraph could be split into a couple more paragraphs. We jump from Emily to Daniel to Emily to Casey to Emily. I’d suggest organising that per character, not per ‘part of the plan’. So Emily has a paragraph about climbing down. Daniel has a paragraph on past experience with Emily escaping (ancedote maybe?). Casey has his own paragraph… is he another brother or the father you mentioned in the previous sentence, it’s not quite clear.
— It’s too short an excerpt to really analyse, but the narrator. Is it third-person limited? Is it third-person omniscient? Does the narrator have a distinct personality or are you trying to go for invisible writing? It’s not clear at this point, but just some things to think about.
— Names are used often; see point one. I think you might have tried to do too much at once. Simplify. 🙂
— You have a very strong grasp on your past tense. Congrats!
— The active voice works very well, strong verbs. This helps contribute to the feel of the piece. Emily is determined to go, and the writing shows it.
It’s an intriguing piece. I just wish there were more so I could help out further. Please feel free to twitter me if you have any concerns regarding my comments.
Hi! I like the beginning line; it seems to flow well and it’s not too long. Nice start–though I must point out that a pet peeve I’ve heard agents and editors say is having your character wake up in the morning; it’s a cliche way of beginning a novel. At any rate, we do get introduced to the character and the timeframe (morning). The “he” in the next few lines seem to me a little too snatched-out-of-thin-air, though; the reader doesn’t know who “he” is and the lines are therefore a little confusing. While there’s nothing wrong with a healthy sense of mystery (which definitely would draw the reader to continue), we don’t know if this “he” is someone from her dreams, a vision, someone she thought of before she fell asleep, someone she has a psychic connection to, or what. I’m not saying remove all sense of mystery, but a tad more info would be helpful. It feels like something is missing.
The line about Emily’s dark eyes as well as the line describing her “long ebony tresses” seem a little shoe-horned to let the reader know info about this girl’s physical description. But I do like that there is a sense of conflict from the very beginning; good job.
I’m curious as to why you say “her” in sentences 2 and 3, but switch to Emily on sentence 4. You’ve introduced no other “she” so repeating her name doesn’t seem necessary for clarity’s sake. Also in the second paragraph; you repeat Emily where “she” would do fine. If you find there are too many “she’s,” then perhaps you can change the sentence structures around and omit a few.
I don’t know how old Emily is, but she seems/feels young. If she is and this is Middle Grade, the second paragraph is probably too long for readers 8-12. MG readers like white space. You could break this up into 2 or 3 smaller bites. At first I was going to comment on the clawed tip-toes, and say that it didn’t sound like bare feet, but then I was later shocked to discover that she is apparently some sort of bird-thing! This is cool, but it’s a disconcerting twist for the reader, who assumes the character is totally human upon your opening. Maybe you could indicate her bird-ness a bit sooner? After you revealed that, I was confused as to whether her brother and family were also bird-things, and why she was living with a normal human family if she was a bird-thing.
Adverbs usually indicate a telling rather than a showing, or at least a substitute for less interesting verbs. Make sure all your adverbs are totally necessary. While you might get by with Emily wriggling carefully, you have another adverb soon thereafter with gently–where you could sub a more interesting verb such as eased or inched, which would imply gentleness and stealth without using an adverb. As a tiny note, frost-covered would be hyphenated, since the words are joint adjectives to describe one noun.
In the third paragraph, it seems a little unlikely that Emily would stop to listen if she’s trying to slip away fast, but perhaps she’s not really there long. However, you describe a lot of things in between, so it FEELS longer to the reader. This description of hair and feathers and breezes tends to slow down the action and the pace. I would think a more natural place to describe these things would be as she’s running/darting away through the forest.
All this aside, this sounds really intriguing! A bird-girl, cool. I’m curious as to where this is going, who the “he” is and why he’s in pain. For research to know what’s already similarly published, be sure to read James Patterson’s Maximum Ride if you haven’t already. It has a quartet of winged kids in it, and is fun reading.
This is a fun site, and I have posted a short blurb and a link to this site on my blogsite today! I like critique sites (and have a bit of one myself, called Artzicarol Ramblings). 🙂 It is really helpful for writers to get feedback on their work, or see actual examples of writing rather than generalities.
“clawed tiptoes” and “feathers protruding through golden skin”–VERY INTRIGUING.
REPETITIVE IDEAS: Emily crawled to the edge of the bed. Emily wriggled down the side of the bed
SUGGESTION: Emily wriggled to the edge of the bed she shared with her older brother Daniel ’till her feet touched the cold hardwood floors. (Use cold because cool describes the air.)
ORIGINAL: Emily sighed with relief. Satisfied that he was still asleep, she tip-toed toward the front door.
SUGGESTION: Show her leaving the bedroom.
ORIGINAL: She held her breath as Daniel rolled over. He would yell for their mother if he knew she was sneaking out of the house again. Daniel murmured something and stilled. Emily sighed with relief. Satisfied that he was still asleep, she tip-toed toward the front door.
SUGGESTION: She held her breath as Daniel rolled over and murmered something. If he knew she was sneaking out of the house again, he would yell for their mother. Satisfied he was still asleep, Emily sighed with relief and tip-toed toward the front door.
ORIGINAL: When she reached the living room she could hear the contented sounds of her father’s humming.
MORE ACTIVE VERB TENSE: When she reached the living room she heard the contented sounds of her father’s humming.
TELL: The air was cool as it whipped through Emily’s long ebony tresses.
SHOW: The cool air whipped through Emily’s long ebony tresses.
Hello! I’m finally getting a chance to sit down and give you some feedback on your excerpt. I’ve been flying across the world for the last few days and trying to get over my jet lag!
Anyway, thank you for sharing this piece with us. I think, overall, it’s well-written, but there are a few things you can do to make it even better.
I agree with Artzicarol2 that the whole first-scene-waking-up-bit is an agent pet peeve, so you might want to consider that.
I’m assuming this is the first scene of your novel because the girl is referred to by both first and last name. That means the “he” mentioned in the first paragraph is unknown to the reader at this point. But, rather than create a sense of mystery, I was confused at first. Is there a way to keep the mystery, but clarify what’s happening in the first paragraph?
When I came to the second paragraph, I was a bit confused to find out Emily shares a bed with her older brother, Daniel. It made me think she is a young child, though you say this is a YA novel. If Emily is a child, would this story make a more appropriate middle-grade novel? On the other hand, if she’s older, it’s disconcerting to think she still shares a bed with an older brother. Maybe this is all made clear in other parts of your book, but these are some of the first things readers will wonder when reading the opening scene.
When you say, “Emily wriggled down the side of the bed,” it makes me even more positive she’s a young child (which is why I chose the photograph of a mysterious young girl to accompany this post). An older girl wouldn’t ‘wriggle’ down the side of the bed–she would step out. Again, the thought that maybe your protagonist is too young for a YA novel comes to mind, although maybe Emily isn’t the main character, after all.
I like when you mention Daniel would yell if he knew Emily was sneaking out “again.” It tells me this is something that has happened before, which is intriguing.
Is Casey her father, or another character? It’s not made clear whether you are talking about the same person. If the story is told in 3rd person limited, you shouldn’t refer to her father by his first name. Even if this is an omniscient narrator, I found it jarring to hear him called “her father” and “Casey” in the same paragraph. If these are two separate people, be sure to explain.
I believe “frost covered dawn” should be “frost-covered dawn.” Very nice line.
Go for fewer words, but choose more pointed ones whenever you can. Instead of saying, “She gently pulled it open,” you could drop the weak adverb and say, “She eased it open,” or something like that.
Although I like the last paragraph and it’s really descriptive, I think it might be overwritten. “The air was cool as it whipped through Emily’s long ebony tresses. The obsidian feathers that protruded from her golden skin rippled in the wind and caused her to shiver.” There are so many powerful words in those two sentences, for me it’s too much. “Long ebony tresses” is a fancy way of saying “long black hair,” so you’re zeroing in on one strong image first, then overpowering us in the next sentence with an even stronger image of “obsidian feathers” and “golden skin.” Protruding, rippling, shivering… it’s all so sensory! I’d choose one powerful image you want to convey, then use plainer language to describe everything else in the paragraph, so that one image really stands out.
You have some really beautiful images and an interesting scene here. A little spit and polish, and I think you’ll soon be knocking your readers’ socks off 🙂
Thanks again for letting us critique your work.
My immediate reaction is that I want to know more. Who is she going to, and what kind of bird thing is she?
I’ve also been told that starting with waking up is a bad idea, but I didn’t have a problem with it here. It starts with a goal and a mystery, and overall it just feels fresh to me. Maybe that’s just your lovely morning descriptions. You might consider starting the story a little later to avoid the cliche and start with action, maybe when she’s meeting up with whoever she’s going to and use these descriptions somewhere else.
On a nitpicky note, the use of ‘till really bothered me. It’s the only abbreviated slang in this scene, making it feel out of place. The rest of the descriptions feel too sophisticated for a kid, making me think this is more omniscient but that word throws me.
I assumed that she was sleeping in her brother’s bed because she’d been sneaking out. The wriggling out of bed makes it seem like a younger character, but the rest seemed more like a teenager. I assume the ages will become clear after this.
This was a very quiet scene with beautiful descriptions. Everything about it invoked a sense of early morning. I do agree with the other commenters that it does seem overwritten, but at the same time I loved it so I don’t know what to tell you.
Whatever you do, best of luck!
When i first read she daintily doged her sleeping brother i was thinking will she make it?