Please welcome today’s anonymous aspiring author ready for a peer critique. Take a moment to read the excerpt, then please leave some thoughtful feedback in the comment section below.
Note: 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, please contact me.
Matthew Eden turned abruptly when his companion was unexpectedly pulled from his side. “Rory! What on earth is the matter with you? Let her go!” exclaimed Matthew as outraged as Fiona herself.
“Why should I? You’ve been held captive and it took a devil of a time to track you down. For two days we’ve not heard a word from you! All we found was the broken port bottle in the cellar. And here’s this young woman with a knife in her hand holding on to you to keep you from escaping. What do you expect me to think?”
“For your information, the ‘knife’ as you call it, is a gardening tool. Which, come to think of it, needs sharpening so I can even cut flowers properly. That is, if you would have the good sense to let me go!” and with that she gave him a swift kick in one of his legs, having learned that trick from her brother Avery.
Not expecting anything like that, the stranger inadvertently loosened his grip, and she immediately bent down to pick up the knife. The Viscount couldn’t help enjoying the graceful curves of her figure as she did this, but she quickly backed away to stand near Matthew. “Do you know this person, Mr. Eden?” she asked disgustedly.
“Unfortunately yes. This uncouth impolite person is my elder brother, Rory Prestwood Lewisham Eden, Viscount of Daventry. Usually he’s a good enough chap, but every once in a while, his temper gets out of hand.”
Potential Feedback Prompts
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I don’t think that you should mention the name of the character who grabs Fiona. So, instead of Matthew saying, “Rory!” you could write “Hey!” or something along those lines. The weird thing is that you’ve mentioned Rory and then called him a stranger afterwards and then you had Mathhew explain who Rory is. Maybe you should not mention the name at the start at all, it will keep the reder thinking who it could be.
Also, I don’t think you can tell that this is a historical novel from the way the characters talk. The dialogue sounds more modern.
Otherwise, I think that it is very simple and to the point which would make this an easy read.
Ignore the typos, I was in a rush xxx
Aspiring Author says
Good points! Thanks very much for taking the time to read this and offer some sorely needed advice! Regards, Aspiring Author
Cynthia Reed says
My immediate reaction to this piece was that I stumbled at the end of the first paragraph with “exclaimed Matthew as outraged as Fiona herself.” I desperately wanted to put a comma in it “exclaimed Matthew, as outraged as Fiona herself.” or rewrite it entirely–which would give me the chance to comment on Fiona being outraged as well.
From the illustration and category (historical romance) I’m assuming this is 19th century, English, upper strata of society from the titles. I agree with Shaz that the language is too modern (for me) though I certainly see enough historical ‘romance’ written that way so this is a personal consideration.
I’d call the “port” “port wine”, for instance, since “port bottle” didn’t work for me. I think in the 19th century it’s commonly called that whereas we just call it “port” today. If you google some articles on 19th century port (as I just did) I think you’ll see the difference. Small things do help make it more real for me.
“Come to think of it” sounds modern in particular. And what is this “knife”? In the time period, what would it have been if it was really a garden tool? Secateurs. finger shears? If it was really for cutting flowers properly, I venture it wasn’t a knife at all but one of those two things (or something I haven’t run acorss yet–entireley possible!). And if it is a knife, why is she denying it? (sorry, picky, I know–I’m writing historical fiction at the moment so I’m into thinking about every word I write).
The “swift kick in one of his legs”…why not tell me which one or just say “a swift kick in the leg” so I don’t ask myself which one? It’s easier for me to get the picture in my mind…and “learned” *could* be “learnt” but, again that’s preference. “Disgustedly” might be “she asked with disgust” or “she asked, disgusted.” Finally, I daresay he didn’t “inadvertently” loosen his grip when he got a kick in the leg!
What I *do* like here is the stranger admiring the curves, the mystery of who the person is and the introduction of the person as the brother. That last sentence, with the addition of a comma or two (e.g. Unfortunately, yes) & (uncouth, impolite person) works for me and, had I not rattled around fussing about the earlier reactions my brain threw up in front of me, then I would have been ready to carry on reading! It could even be your opening paragraph…?
I hope this helps…and that you’ll do the same for me one day soon!
Aspiring Author says
Good points! Thanks very much for taking the time to read this and offer some sorely needed advice! Regards, Aspiring Author
A few quick points:
The scene is good, the action is confrontational. Dialogue is good. The author has a good ear. The third person in the scene, however, is vague. POV is unclear. I would ditch the adverbs immediately. The section needs to move from a synopsis to a scene. This is good action and the participant’s positions are apparent. The reader can get closer to what is happening knowing from whose point of view this is transpiring. Clear the POV.
Including thoughts and reactions will do it.
On another note. “BUT” ?? The focus is on a description of the curves, The “but” doesn’t follow. “–she backed away—-” does not conclude the postulate. What about his enjoyment? It needs to carry a result. “but” refers to exception. What is the exception? “but” what? You might say – “but his enjoyment was brief….”
There are places you might open up to showing is more rather than reporting. A lot can be done with this. Stay with it.
The strength of this piece is that the dialogue establishes conflict in the first line, which always draws the reader in. However, I counted 8 adverbs (abruptly, disgustedly, etc.) in this short piece, an overuse of descriptive shorthand. Some editors would not allow one. Consider deleting all words ending in “ly” and show what that description looks like, in action, in dialogue, narrative, etc. That gets you into the hard work or writing, but you will end up with a much more professional and engaging piece. For instance, show Fiona falling sideways, or saying “get your hands off me,” and the reader will not need to be told it was abrupt and you will have also added dimension to your character.
I found it hard to place this episode in time. The word choice sounded contemporary and there were no visual clues. Rather than having him admire her curves (who’s the Viscount?), which seemed inappropriate in this moment of conflict, he could see the long skirt of her gown catch on blah blah blah. and we’d get a better historical clue.
Also, when she talks about the “knife,” Rory had been speaking to Matthew and it seemed as if M was talking. You must start the line with “Fiona interrupted” or something for a smooth flow.
I think the last paragraph is a let down because Matthew now describes the “stranger?” as “a good enough chap” and takes the air out of the conflict. You won’t lose anything by having Matthew tell Fiona in the first PP that he is his brother (the long title is not believable in dialogue–put that someplace else in narrative), and keep the action to the reason why Rory was missing, which has not been answered. You have a conflict between brothers here, which is an excellent archetype so work that for all the drama you can.
Good luck and I hope something has been helpful.
Normally when I critique someone else’s scene or chapter, I end up generating far more words of my own then were in the actual piece. So for the sake of being brief here, I will only make some general observations.
In your first five paragraphs, what you have is basically an outline. And that’s just fine.
For you can now use that outline to start to write the beginning scene of your actual story.
And as you may know from reading books such as Dwight V. Swain’s “Techniques of the Selling Writer”, a scene consists of Goal, Conflict, and Disaster. This is also where you might want to start building your story world, a place your reader has never been.
So, basically, you could identify a focal character and stick to that one person’s point-of-view. Then you could give that person a goal, show the conflict that person encounters by using motivation-reaction units, and then end the scene in a disaster.And, while doing all this, you could show us most of the following: who, what, when, where, why, and how.
You might wish to test the above techniques out by reading the first chapters of any number of the novels you may have lying around — and then observing how well each of them accomplish the above tasks.
Why not give it a whirl, and see what happens?
“as outraged as Fiona herself”. You should show Fiona’s outrage first if that’s her reaction. We learn about it too late.
“with a knife in her hand”. It should be jabbing his ribs or neck if she’s serious (and Rory obviously sees it that way.
“having learned that trick from her brother Avery”. This is a distraction from the action. And it’s a trick anybody knows who’s ever grown up.
The language does not seem indicative of the era for which it is intended. It lost me before the second paragraph
Ashley Prince says
My immediate reaction to this was that it has incredibly potential. The dialogue was engaging, and I could see what was happening in my head.
Alright, let’s start with my likes:
First of all, I absolutely love the name Rory. (I’m a huge Doctor Who fan, and I pictured the actor who plays Rory in my head as I read this. So it was, brilliant.)
I also really enjoyed reading about a feisty, female characters. They’re my favorite.
When reading this, I liked that I immediately wondered how and why Matthew was taken hostage.
As for dislikes:
The dialogue, while engaging, I don’t feel fits with the era you are writing in. I will leave it at that because other comments on here point it out in greater detail.
My second and last dislike, is that I had to read it two times to understand that Rory and the stranger were the same person. Although, this could have been my issue because I occasionally read too fast.
I really think what you have here is thoroughly engaging and your characters are well established. I would love to read more of this.
florence fois says
First thanks for sharing part of your historical romance. Genre is not the key element in this sample of your writing, your voice and your language usage is the most important element in this sample. It shows us how well you have learned to master language usage and find a strong POV.
In your next round of edits and after thinking about all the comments you receive here at WIS … think about doing a short writing excercise. Take just this small sample and remove ALL adjectives … kill off every single “ly” and exclamatory sentence and delete every one of your ( ! ) … all of them … don’t leave a single adjective or exclamatory remark and write it in a strong voice that can live without any “ly” …
Then do that for every single paragraph of your book and when you read it over you will see you have not lost the power of your voice. It isn’t that all writing advice tells us not to use excessive “ly” … it is that there are better ways to convey the message and when you practice doing them, you find your work gets better.
This is a great story concept and if you make your voice stronger and rely less on quick-fix phrasing … you will get to the heart of it and tell it better than you thought you could. Good beginning … don’t ever stop 🙂
I don’t see the point in having a dialogue tag. We know that
it’s Matthew speaking because he is the subject of this paragraph. The dialogue
itself holds a lot of emotion and I can feel the outrage pouring from his words.
This paragraph’s dialogue is strong enough to stand on its own.
Fiona’s outrage, however,
I cannot sympathise with because I cannot see it. Number one rule: Show not
tell. Maybe she tries to elbow Rory or she struggles to get out of his grip but
he’s too strong. Your character’s are real, at least in your mind, so have them
react like real people. Reader’s don’t sympathise with passing mentions on how
someone is feeling.
The next 2 paragraphs:
There’s too much information in the next 2 paragraph’s dialogue.
This doesn’t do well for the flow. In terms of readability and hooking your
audience, I’d suggest splitting it up.
E.g. “Why should I? She’s got a knife.” “For your
information, the ‘knife’ as you call it, is a gardening tool.”
‘For two days we’ve not heard from you’ — I found this
phrasing awkward. Who says that? ‘We haven’t heard from you in two days’ sounds
a lot better. There are more awkward phrases: ‘Which, come to think of it,
needs sharpening so I can even cut flowers properly’. Maybe changed to: ‘It can’t
even cut flowers properly. I should really go and get it sharpened.’ Etc…
The Fourth Paragraph:
There’s a lot of questions that the audience will be asking
themselves that detract from your story: Why call it a knife when we know it
isn’t one? Why reference the man as a stranger when we know that his name is
Rory and that Matthew knows him? Etc..
Once again, there is an unnecessary dialogue tag. She’s already
the subject of the paragraph. However, in this case you want the reader to
imagine the words laced with disgust. In that case, why not show us that she is
disgusted before she says anything. That way the reader will read it with the
disgusted tone in mind.
Still a bit too much information . Split, split, split.
This is but a suggestion based on my own opinion: Maybe vary
the way you present the dialogue a bit by having a dialogue tag in the middle
of the paragraph. E.g. “Unfortunately, yes,” he groaned. He met the man’s eyes
and frowned, “This uncouth and impolite person is my elder brother, Rory
Prestwood Lewisham Eden, Viscount of Daventry.”
I don’t want to come across as harsh – although, I probably
did. In fact, I wouldn’t have bothered to critique this if I didn’t like it. My
suggestions are mere spit and polish for what is, potentially, a great story.
I’m notorious for not finishing a story because I don’t find
it interesting but this definitely catches my attention.
read on. 🙂
Thanks for sharing this excerpt with us! You have an interesting scene here, but I think you’re having a bit of trouble realizing the scene in a way that draws the reader in.
Because you name ‘Matthew Eden’ instead of just ‘Matthew’ at the outset, and because of the way the scene is written, I’m wondering if this is the beginning of the story. If so, your readers might be a bit confused as to what’s going on. I had to read through the passage a couple of times to figure out what was going on. ‘Companion’ doesn’t evoke a definite image—it could be his friend, his lover, his servant, etc. We have to read the rest of the paragraph to figure out the companion is Fiona, and even then we don’t know what relationship she had with Matthew.
The “you’ve been held captive” bit seems like an infodump. Is there a more subtle way to convey this information?
While it’s an amusing idea that Rory mistakes Fiona’s gardening tool for a weapon, it seems a little unrealistic. A man isn’t likely to think a woman is holding a man captive unless she’s got the weapon to his throat or something.
“Not expecting anything like that” is unnecessary because we know he won’t have been expecting to be kicked by her.
Be aware of how many times you include adverbs in this passage:
Sometimes these are okay, but using too many means you’re doing more telling than showing.
You seem to be getting a lot of helpful feedback, so I wish you all the best in reworking this piece!
Asrai Devin says
First off, I’m intrigued by the snippet. I’m wondering who is kidnapping who and why and where they are going and why they are going there. I want to know more!!
The POV is unclear. It starts out looking like Matthew, but then takes a turn to Fiona. And then again where the Viscount enjoys her figure. If it’s Matthew’s he could frown upon his brother’s leer, Fiona might stand up to notice his attention to her body. Also, you haven’t introduced him as the Viscount at this point and it’s confusing to do so.His noticing on her body labels him as the hero of the book upon statement instead of Matthew and we can tell where the book is going in that instant. You might want to make it a little more obscure at this point. Calling him by name and then “stranger” seems … odd. Adverbs are almost always TELLING something. Show us her disgust, her outrage, and the abruptness of the unexpected grabbing. In the first paragraph, I would have them walking down the street and then she’s grabbed from an alley, I would guess she would scream in outrage, rather than Matthew’s reaction occurring first. And how does Fiona know Matthew’s as outraged as her? We never see her drop the knife, so why is she picking it up? Again the plot is solid, the dialogue fits the action and I’m left wondering the details of the kidnapping that Rory is saving his brother from.