Excerpt for Critique 002


We have another volunteer today with an excerpt from her WIP.  It is the first thousand words including the prologue and part of chapter one.  I want to thank Debbie Moore for being brave enough to provide her work for us to look at.

For those interested, please place your feedback in the comments section.  If you have specific points, try to provide examples of what might work better.  Be gentle and let her know what she did right as well.  I will paste the story as I received it below.  After that will be my own critique.  I don’t expect anyone to be as thorough as I am, so don’t feel you need to take that kind of time.  Even a few lines describing your thoughts can be useful.  The greater the participation, the better overall idea Debbie will have of where she stands with her work.

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Prologue

 

It felt like being buried alive.  The coolness of the earth above, below, and around him.  An increase in pressure.  The air, thinning.  The walls gradually closing in.  These sensations were only a manifestation of one of his many phobias, he realized, but in this case, an acute possibility.

Bernard of Clairvaux was coming at the request of his brethren.  He crawled through the dark, steep tunnel that had been unearthed only three days prior, located in the far reaches under the Al Aqsa Mosque where they had been headquartered since King Baldwin II of Jerusalem graciously granted it to them in 1119.  And they’d been silently digging ever since.

More loose dirt trickled down around him as he continued forward, infiltrating the last white thread of his garment.  Finally, after nineteen long, grueling years of searching, after all their sacrifices, Bernard was notified they had been found.

The most elite of The Poor Knights of the Temple of King Solomon were crouched in the small tomb, anxiously awaiting his arrival.

“It’s here, Bernard!  This time I am certain.  Come see!” exclaimed his old friend, Godfrey de Saint-Omer, as Bernard entered the small space on his hands and knees.

“Let us pray, Godfrey.  Are you confident this is not just another dead end?”

Godfrey handed Bernard the large, thick book made of parchment, well preserved, and bound in human skin.  Bernard opened it slowly.  If it was the book they sought, it contained knowledge more forbidden than anything here on earth.  The book and ring were all that was left in need of protection.  And the Knights Templar would protect them with their very lives, each having sworn a secret oath to do so.

Bernard’s face lit up upon the recognition that it was indeed the original Key of Solomon, not just another imitation like the several others they had found over the years.  This one contained the final prophesy, unlike the others.

“What of the ring?” Bernard asked eagerly.

“Oh yes, it is here as well!” Godfrey unable to contain his excitement, gingerly handing the band to his trusted ally.

“Exquisite,” Bernard slowly exhaled, in awe of its presence, fighting the urge to slide the powerful trinket upon his own finger.  “Hurry, put these in a secure place.  The walls may have eyes.  Oh, if only Hugues could have lived to see this day!  We will notify Pope Innocent II that we have found them at last, requesting all the influence needed to protect them.  This finally gives us the leverage we need.  But no one else must know or lay eyes upon them, you understand?  I do not want even the Pope to see.  We cannot afford his interference.  These will not become part of his collection, like the other holy items we have discovered in the past.  They will be handed down through the chosen family as instructed until the end time grows nigh.  Pure Faith must fulfill her destiny . . . at all costs.”

Chapter 1

Crash!  Then total darkness.  It was certainly not the end that Alexandra had foreseen.  Letting him in had changed everything.  She could not begin to conceive what effects this would have on the future.  She needed more time.  How would Catherine know what to do?  Who would help guide her down the right path?  Alexandra hadn’t even taken the opportunity to tell Catherine who she really was, her importance during the years to come, and now it was too late.  How could she have been so careless?  Things had already been set in motion.  It was so obvious to her.  But would Catherine be able to read the signs?  It was her responsibility to protect that which is most precious, and now she had failed.

“It’s in God’s hands now,” Alexandra realized while struggling to remain conscious.

At least they were well hidden, out of his reach, but she must not think of that now.  He may hear.  So she cleared her mind of it.

Alexandra could feel the end was near and feared what he still had in store for her.  She had tried to get away from him once she recognized who he was, his dubious influence, his intoxicating ways, but too little, too late.

She didn’t know how, but he had found her again.  Alexandra hadn’t stayed in the same place, not even a day, for quite some time now.  Could he still feel her, despite all the other precautions she had taken?

Suddenly, Alexandra was startled by high-pitched scratching against metal.  The sound grew louder and louder as her pain grew stronger.  The scratching sound stopped without warning, only to be replaced with the sound of breaking glass a few moments later.

She moaned in pain as she attempted to unfasten her seatbelt.  She desperately wanted to fling open the door and run away to safety, but Alexandra was unable to move.  Her body was not responding, every inch of her ached.

Her heart beat faster when she felt his familiar lips, which used to thrill her but now caused panic, softly caress the right side of her neck.  His kiss deepening.  Her essence trembling with both pleasure and fear.

“Oh no . . . please don’t,” she begged, suspecting what would come next.  “You’ve won, now just leave me die in peace.”

There was silence for a moment, but then a voice whispered, his warm breath in her ear, “Now what kind of boyfriend would I be if I didn’t put you out of your misery?  I’ve missed you so.”

She couldn’t fathom how anyone could be so cruel.  Alexandra prayed it would be over quickly.

He sensed this of course, which is why he would prolong it for as long as nature would allow.

Terror gripped her when unexpectedly, and with great force, the driver’s seat was pulled backward onto the back seat of her vehicle.

—————————

Prologue

 

It felt like being buried alive.  The coolness of the earth above, below, and around him.  An increase in pressure .  The air, thinning (Is he having trouble breathing right here?  You might add that in).  The walls gradually closing in.  These sensations were only a manifestation of one of his many phobias, he realized, but in this case, an acute possibility. (Great opening and suspenseful way to draw readers in)

Bernard of Clairvaux was coming at the request of his brethren.  He crawled through the dark, steep tunnel that had been unearthed only three days prior, located in the far reaches under the Al Aqsa Mosque where they had been headquartered since King Baldwin II of Jerusalem graciously granted it to them in 1119.  And they’d been silently digging ever since.

More loose dirt trickled down around him as he continued forward, infiltrating the last white thread of his garment.  Finally, after nineteen long, grueling years of searching, after all their sacrifices, Bernard was notified they had been found.

The most elite of The Poor Knights of the Temple of King Solomon were crouched in the small tomb, anxiously awaiting his arrival.

“It’s here, Bernard!  This time I am certain.  Come see!” exclaimed (maybe say “cried out” instead) his old friend, Godfrey de Saint-Omer, as Bernard entered the small space on his hands and knees.

“Let us pray, Godfrey.  Are you confident this is not just another dead-end?”

Godfrey handed Bernard the large, thick book made of parchment, well-preserved, and bound in human skin.  Bernard opened it slowly.  If it was the book they sought, it contained knowledge more forbidden than anything here on earth.  The book and ring were all that was left in need of protection.  And the Knights Templar would protect them with their very lives, each having sworn a secret oath to do so.

Bernard’s face lit up upon the recognition that it was indeed the original Key of Solomon, not just another imitation like the several others they had found over the years.  This one contained the final prophesy, unlike the others.

“What of the ring?” Bernard asked eagerly.

“Oh yes, it is here as well!” Godfrey unable to contain his excitement, gingerly handing the band to his trusted ally.

“Exquisite,” Bernard slowly exhaled, in awe of its presence, fighting the urge to slide the powerful trinket upon his own finger.  “Hurry, put these in a secure place.  The walls may have eyes.  Oh, if only Hugues could have lived to see this day!  We will notify Pope Innocent II that we have found them at last, requesting all the influence needed to protect them.  This finally gives us the leverage we need.  But no one else must know or lay eyes upon them, you understand?  I do not want even the Pope to see.  We cannot afford his interference.  These will not become part of his collection, like the other holy items we have discovered in the past.  They will be handed down through the chosen family as instructed until the end time grows nigh.  Pure Faith must fulfill her destiny . . . at all costs.”  (The dialog in this paragraph is a bit wordy and choppy.  If you could cut it down and smooth it just a little, that would make it better.)

Chapter 1

Crash!  Then total darkness.  It was certainly not the end that Alexandra had foreseen.  Letting him in had changed everything.  She could not begin to conceive what effects this would have on the future.  She needed more time.  How would Catherine know what to do?  (Before jumping to thoughts of Catherine, it might help to progress a little further into what just happened.  I barely caught that the crash was not an accident.  Adding a bit more information on what is currently going on will heighten suspense and draw the reader in.) Who would help guide her down the right path?  Alexandra hadn’t even taken the opportunity to tell Catherine who she really was, her importance during the years to come, and now it was too late.  How could she have been so careless?  Things had already been set in motion.  It was so obvious to her.  But would Catherine be able to read the signs?  It was her responsibility to protect that which is most precious, and now she had failed.

“It’s in God’s hands now,” (I’d put this as a thought in italics instead of dialog) Alexandra realized thought while struggling to remain conscious.

At least they were well hidden, out of his reach, but she must not think of that now.  He may hear.  So she cleared her mind of it.  (Hmmm, this implies he might be able to read her thoughts.  A good way to imply there may be paranormal elements involved.)

Alexandra could feel the end was near and feared what he still had in store for her.  She had tried to get away from him once she recognized who he was, his dubious influence, his intoxicating ways, but too little, too late.

She didn’t know how, but he had found her again.  Alexandra hadn’t stayed in the same place, not even a day, for quite some time now.  Could he still feel her, despite all the other precautions she had taken?

Suddenly (Cut this and instead say something such as she jumped or cried out to imply she was caught off guard), Alexandra was startled by high-pitched scratching against metal.  The sound grew louder and louder as her pain grew stronger.  The scratching sound stopped without warning, only to be replaced with the sound of breaking glass a few moments later.

She moaned in pain as she attempted to unfasten her seatbelt.  She desperately wanted to fling open the door and run away to safety, but Alexandra was unable to move.  Her body was not responding, every inch of her ached.  (Okay, I’m now realizing she is in her car.  For me, it would have been just as suspenseful to know this detail from the start.  It would have given me a better understanding of where she is as I envisioned the scene.)

Her heart beat faster when she felt his familiar lips, which used to thrill her but now caused panic, softly caressing the right side of her neck.  (His kiss deepening.  Her essence trembling with both pleasure and fear.)-You might combine these two sentences for better flow of the words.  Such as “His kiss deepened, making her tremble with both pleasure and fear.”

“Oh no . . . please don’t,” she begged, suspecting what would come next.  “You’ve won, now just leave me to die in peace.”

There was silence for a moment, but then a voice (was it a deep voice?  A compelling voice?) whispered, his warm breath in her ear, “Now what kind of boyfriend would I be if I didn’t put you out of your misery?  I’ve missed you so.”

She couldn’t fathom how anyone could be so cruel.  Alexandra prayed it would be over quickly.

He sensed this of course, which is why he would prolong it for as long as nature would allow.

Terror gripped her when unexpectedly, and with great force, the driver’s seat was jerked  pulled backward onto the back seat of her vehicle.

Debbie, you have a great opening.  Both the prologue and beginning of chapter one are heavy in suspense so readers will be drawn in.  Just enough information has been revealed to give an idea of where this story is leading, but enough left out so that I want to know more.  Your pacing is good as well.  There were no large sections of backstory or description to slow things down (with the exception of that first paragraph in Chapter One)

Most of the issues I saw were with wording, such as the stray adverb and some sentences that could flow better.  For Chapter One, I would definitely give away that the crash occurred in a car.  I spent all the time before you revealed that thinking someone had broken a light in a room since you said it was dark.  It threw me for a minute when I realized she wasn’t in a building or house, but instead in a car.  If you start with her trapped in her vehicle, it gives the reader a better sense of place and helps them to understand how precarious the situation is.

Other than that, I thought your opening was really good.  You’ve certainly got a handle on how to hook readers.  I’m really curious who this guy is that attacked the woman in the car.  Along with what the Templars are up to.  Thanks for submitting your excerpt. I hope you find all the feedback helpful!

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To everyone else- If you have an excerpt (up to 1000 words) that you would like to submit, please go to this page for further details.  I’ll be happy to schedule your critique for a future blog post!

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~ by Suzie on June 5, 2012.

13 Responses to “Excerpt for Critique 002”

  1. Susan, not only were your observations more appreciated than I can express, I’m realizing the value of a critique. While reading your comments, I found myself critiquing along with you. For example, I will be removing “unlike the others” as the fact that “this one contained the final prophesy” already implies the others did not, so no need to say it! I know the first item I will tackle is the repeated wording, as this is a pet peeve of mine. Grace, if you read this comment, I want you to laugh hysterically. This was an item I pointed out in my critique for her. And how I do love my adverbs! I wonder why. . . . When I go back and read my own work, I usually wear an Editor’s hat. Now I will also wear a Critiquing hat. Thank you for your comments regarding the suspense. One thing I struggle with when writing suspense is how much to divulge now and how much to leave for later. You’ve made me realize that if it involves visualization, a part of the scene being read at the time, it is okay to give that away. No different than if watching on TV, where a car would be seen. Thank you for that, too!

    • You are welcome, Debbie. There are certainly a lot of hats to be throwing on when going back for revisions. I certainly feel your pain. My wonderful critique partner (and others who have pitched in on my intro) have been great at catching when I make these same mistakes. It is so easy to miss the little things in your own writing. We get so close to the story that it can be difficult to know how others might view it. This is where critiques are invaluable. I certainly don’t proclaim I’m perfect either so don’t feel bad.

      Definitely set your scene early on. You’ve got plenty of other elements to heighten suspense without hiding that detail. Darn those adverbs as well. They can sound so good that you don’t even realize some of them are stopping you from giving a better description. I’m not of the fan club that says get rid of them all. They have their place in my mind, but if there is a better alternative it’s good to be able to recognize it, or know when it isn’t needed at all.

      I posted this a little later than I meant to, but I’m sure others will be along in the next day or two to add their own feedback. Glad it has been helpful so far!

      • Susan, I wanted to volunteer in part because I tend to be sensitive and realize I need a tougher skin to make it in this business. Your comments were so constructive that it didn’t hurt a bit! And I’d like to say that you also helped boost my confidence, so thanks for that. The later posting worked for me because I found out today that my uncle passed away this morning, and it gave me time to offer my condolences, while reading your thoughts helped to take my mind off of things. I can’t thank you enough. :)

        • Debbie, I am sorry to hear about your uncle. Whether you expect a death like that or not, it can still come as a shock when it happens. My condolences to you and your family.

          I’m glad the critique was constructive and yet easy to handle. That was certainly my goal. I think one of the biggest hurdles for writers to overcome is getting past that fear of criticism. Exercises such as this are one way to thicken that skin.

    • Those adverbs DO have a nasty habit of sneaking up on us, don’t they? I cut out a good 500 words from my WIP the other day. Every one of them ended in “ly!”

      • Wow! I’m going through mine, too. I’m finding it challenging to determine an alternative when I find one, but I must admit – when I reword the sentence, it does come out much more descriptive :)

  2. Susan, I’m so glad I kept your blog bookmarked! I had no idea you provided this service as well. Your comments are so clear, constructive and helpful. I’m going to have to submit something too!

    I thought this story was very compelling, it leaves me wanting to know more about the bad guy, why she is running from him, etc. Very suspenseful.

    • Neeks, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I’m glad you enjoyed it. That is every writer’s dream.

  3. Hi Debbie! I’m glad you found Susan’s critique helpful and not hurtful. When you find someone who can articulate feedback in an objective and genuine way, it really can be energizing and motivating. At least, that’s how I find it. :-)

    So, I would agree with Susan’s suggestion to let us know right at the beginning of Ch. 1 that it’s a car crash. Also, I found Alexandra’s thoughts and worries in that first paragraph to feel rather rushed. I get that there’s an element of panic and rambling thoughts when you’re lying in a ditch or something, but for the narrative, it doesn’t give the reader enough time to process and connect with the urgency of those thoughts. So, spacing them out with description will help with that. Like in the middle of her inner monologue, does she smell gas leaking? Does she pull at her seat belt but it’s stuck? Does she cry out in frustration, pain? Is her heart pounding with panic as she thinks of Catherine being all alone? (Some of the stuff you have further down.) So the combination of inner monologue, description, and character interacting with the environment amp up the urgency of the scene.

    That might also help break up the sentence structure variety in that first paragraph, which is mostly the same.

    You’ve got the suspense down story-wise, and I didn’t see any major things in the prologue. Ch. 1 could just use a little more intensity when it comes to letting the reader experience the suspense with the character, if that makes sense.

    • Hi Angela, I was hoping you’d stop by. I’ve found merit in many of your comments on other blog topics and value your opinions. What you’re saying is in line with something I’ve been considering lately – trying to ensure that all 5 senses are incorporated in my writing. Weaving in some environmental elements and how she interacts with those will help accomplish both goals. Thanks for the suggestions!

      • Oh, thank you. I’m glad I could be helpful. :-) Putting description in my own writing is my weakest point, but I’m working hard on it. Susan mentioned that even a movie would show the scene, and I’m trying to force myself to think that way: if this were a screenplay, what would I specifically show? Rather than relying on a generic idea of “they’re in the woods.”

        • I feel it’s my weakness also. I’m glad I’m not alone! It’s challenging to remember that when I have a vision in my head as I write a scene, my audience is no mind reader. How else will they perceive what I see unless I show them. I also have a tendency to pace a scene too quickly, then have to go back to slow things down, so this will help to accomplish that as well.

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