Born to Die opening *Critique?*

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Nessa
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Born to Die opening *Critique?*

Post by Nessa » June 14th, 2010, 8:25 pm

Can't wait for your guys' critique. If you are also interested I am searching for a second beta for this novel. I have one awesome one but another pair of eyes never hurts. So here goes...I hope the formatting isn't screwed.

Chapter 1

I concentrate as hard as I can, but I know I will never do what my father wants; I will never lift the orb. I look into my father's desperate brown eyes. Beads of sweat have formed on his brow and his face is flushed.

"I am a yeeod," I say. "I'm so sorry, father."

Grasping my shoulders, he pulls me closer. I want to look away from his intense stare, but I'm afraid it would only confirm my guilt. “Listen to me Nayla. You are not a Yeeod don't say that, never say that. No child of mine will be taken, branded and worked to death at the concentration camps.”

Breathing hard, I look back at the gold orb. I stare at it, willing for it to move, hoping for at least the softest wisp of wind from the open window to help, but nothing happens for a long few minutes. I turn to my father; he is shaking his head, his jaw clenched and his eyes racing.

“Nayla, you must be just nervous. One last time, let me show you.” His voice is hoarse and he lifts his trembling hands and stares hard at the orb.

It lifts easily as if it is meant to fly and stays floating in the air. The orb falls down onto the table and rolls off when a knock is heard on our front door. They are here for me.

“Hide,” he hisses, but I don’t move a muscle.

Goosebumps rise on my bare arms and my wet limp hair slaps against my back like a stone mop, I fear them more than my father fears for me. "No," I say. "I have to face my fears, you taught me that."

“Please, Nayla, they will brand you and kill you, please…” he begs. But if I hide they will only kill him and I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. I have to face them.

“Father,” I take his hands and hold them like I did when I was a little girl. They are cold and trembling. So are mine. “Don’t be scared for me. I will stay strong. Find mother for me. Only remember I love you.” My voice is shaking like never before and is softer than a whisper. I feel cold tingles all over me. This is the last time I will see him. The knocking on the door gets more impatient and a voice calls in.

“Mr. Ebriony, open the door or I will have to open it by force.” The voice is slow, with a lingering accent and I recognize it to be one of the head councilor’s of the Majority.

lachrymal
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Re: Born to Die opening *Critique?*

Post by lachrymal » June 15th, 2010, 6:22 am

Chapter 1

I concentrate as hard as I can, but I know I will never do what my father wants; I will never lift the orb. I look into my father's desperate brown eyes. Beads of sweat have formed on his brow [technically, you either need a comma before this conjunction or you could make it a stand alone sentence: "His face is flushed."] and his face is flushed.

"I am a yeeod [below, you capitalize this word. Is it a proper noun or not? You must make a decision and be utterly consistent.]," I say. "I'm so sorry, father [you need to capitalize "Father" because she's addressing him like it's his name]."

Grasping my shoulders, he pulls me closer. I want to look away from his intense stare, but I'm afraid it would only confirm my guilt. “Listen to me [comma] Nayla. You are not a Yeeod [you must have some kind of punctuation here. A period would be most appropriate.] don't say that, never say that [and then, this should probably read: "Don't say that. Never say that." because you want to avoid the comma splice--separating two independent phrases or complete sentences by a comma alone]. No child of mine will be taken, branded [comma] and worked to death at the concentration camps.”

Breathing hard, I look back at the gold orb. I stare at it, willing for [you could delete this word--"willing it to move" works just as well] it to move, hoping for at least [you can also delete "for at least" so it just says "hoping the softest wisp of wind from the open window will help"]the softest wisp of wind from the open window to help, but nothing happens for a long few minutes. I turn to my father; he is shaking his head, his jaw clenched and his eyes racing [what exactly do racing eyes look like? This is not a description I've heard before and sounds rather strange to me].

“Nayla, you must be just [Like "even", "just" is often overused. I suggest you delete it when you can. Once you do, you may find you don't miss them. And in this case, I think it would work better without it. "must be just" sounds odd] nervous. One last time, let me show you.” His voice is hoarse and [perhaps you could change this "and" to "as". Otherwise, you need to add a comma before the conjunction because what comes after is an independent phrase. You could also just make it a stand alone sentence.] and he lifts his trembling hands and stares hard at the orb.

It lifts easily as if it is meant to fly and stays floating [you could also say "floats"--fewer words, means the same thing--and I assume the air is where it's floating, so you could even delete that if you wanted] in the air. The orb falls down [when something falls, it's usually downward--so you could delete "down" and simply say "it calls onto the table"] onto the table and rolls off when a knock is heard [you could just say "someone knocks"--your current construction is passive] on our front door. They are here for me.

“Hide,” he hisses, but I don’t move a muscle [this is a rather cliched phrase. I think if you just said "I don't move" it would be fine].

Goosebumps rise on my bare arms and my wet [comma] limp hair slaps against my back like a stone mop [what is a "stone mop"? I don't understand the reference. I liked your description before that and I think the simile here weakens it], I fear them more than my father fears for me[and here you have a comma splice. You can't separate two complete sentences with only a comma. Probably the best thing to do here is to put a period after your description of the hair. Also--when you say "I fear them", it sounds like you're saying she fears the goosebumps. Is that what you mean?]. "No," I say. "I have to face my fears, [again, this is a comma splice. Make the comma a period] you taught me that."

“Please, Nayla, they will brand you and kill you, please…” he begs. But if I hide [comma] they will only kill him [comma] and I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. I have to face them.

“Father,” [you either need a dialogue tag here or you need to change that comma after "Father" to a period] I take his hands and hold them like I did when I was a little girl. They are cold and trembling. So are mine. “Don’t be scared for me. I will stay strong. Find mother for me. Only remember I love you.” My voice is shaking like never before and is softer than a whisper. I feel cold tingles all over me [In general, try to avoid saying "I feel" or "I hear" when you could just say something like "Cold tingles prick my skin" or something more dynamic and descriptive]. This is the last time I will see him. The knocking on the door gets more impatient [comma] and a voice calls in.

“Mr. Ebriony, open the door or I will have to open it by force.” The voice is slow, with a lingering accent [I would put a period here and start the next sentence with "I recognize"]and I recognize it to be one of the head councilor’s of the Majority [or, again, because you have just described the voice, and because she tells us who it is, you probably don't even have to tell us she recognizes it, as that would be assumed if you just write "It is one of the head councilors of the Majority" Also--delete that apostrophe in "councilors" This is just a plural, not a possessive].

What a heartrending scene! I've read your query and think your idea is so interesting. It has the potential to be a very powerful story. I like the way you start with a dynamic moment of high emotional impact. What's happening is clear and not at all confusing. I think it's a pretty enticing page.

I suggest you look up the rules for comma usage and apply them carefully. You have a lot of sentences that connect two independent phrases with a conjunction (usually "and") and no comma. Technically, the grammatical rule is to put a comma before the conjunction when what comes after it is an independent phrase. Now, there are cases where you can choose to leave it out for stylistic purposes, and for that reason, I did not even mark all the times you did that on this page. However, there are many examples of it here, and sometimes I think it might make more sense to simply separate the two phrases and make them two sentences rather than one. Sometimes, short, declarative sentences are more powerful.

You have plenty of words you could delete to make this tighter. Be careful of overusing prepositions and stating things that folks could assume ("falls down" is one example of this). And finally, proofread, proofread, proofread! There were a lot of little errors on this page that seem more like typos than a lack of knowledge.

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Re: Born to Die opening *Critique?*

Post by Margo » June 15th, 2010, 11:32 am

Hi, Nessa. Here are some comments. I hope they are helpful.

Overall, the story seems intriguing in this small snippet, and I like that you have kept unnecessary description to a minimum. I don’t think I’m particularly bothered by the fact that you might have an extra ‘just’ or ‘that’ thrown in, but some of the sentence construction is a bit awkward (though easily fixed). You do need comma work, as pointed out in a previous post.

I’ll make my specific comments line-by-line so you know what I’m talking about. Your writing appears in italics and my comments in plain font.

I concentrate as hard as I can, but I know I will never do what my father wants; I will never lift the orb.

Is this a matter of won’t for Nayla or can’t? To some degree it is cleared up by context, but the choice of ‘will never’ over ‘can never’ gave me pause while I was reading.


Beads of sweat have formed on his brow and his face is flushed.

As pointed out in previous comments, most of the time you want a comma before a conjunction joining two complete sentences. Generally, it is acceptable to leave out the comma if both the sentences are short (which is a matter of individual judgment) and the absence of the comma doesn’t let the sentences run together and cause confusion when the reader hits the second verb. In this case, I think it could go either way. In later cases, I think you need the comma.


"I am a yeeod," I say. "I'm so sorry, father."

Again, as already pointed out, you need to be consistent with whether or not yeeod is going to be capitalized. Also, Father needs to be capitalized as though it were a proper name, because that’s how it’s being used here.


Grasping my shoulders, he pulls me closer.

Be careful with this kind of sentence construction. It indicates simultaneous action when consecutive actions may be the intention. If you mean he is grasping her shoulders at the same time he is pulling her, this construction is fine. If you mean that he grasps her shoulders AND THEN pulls her toward him, you will need to rephrase this.


I want to look away from his intense stare, but I'm afraid it would only confirm my guilt.

I find the choice of words ‘confirm my guilt’ odd here. What is she guilty of? That makes it sound like a conscious choice.


No child of mine will be taken, branded and worked to death at the concentration camps.

Though I understand this is necessary information, it reads to me like a “As you know, Bob...” Is Nayla’s father saying this because he would really talk like this or because the author needs to convey the information to the reader and is choosing dialogue to disguise the (albeit brief) info dump?


I stare at it, willing for it to move...

Oops, quick edit here on my comment. ‘for’ is unnecessary and awkward in reading.


I turn to my father; he is shaking his head, his jaw clenched and his eyes racing.

Two comments on the racing eyes. First, I have no idea what you mean by racing eyes. Second, are you really talking about his eyes or his gaze?


“Nayla, you must be just nervous.

Awkward construction. I’d use ‘must just be nervous’ or (as already suggested) cut out ‘just’ entirely.


His voice is hoarse and he lifts his trembling hands and stares hard at the orb.

I’d use the commas here because of the use of ‘and’ the second time: His voice is hoarse[,] and he lifts his trembling hands and stares hard at the orb.


It lifts easily as if it is meant to fly and stays floating in the air.

The wording ‘it lifts easily’ sounds off to me. I wanted to ask what it is lifting. Perhaps ‘rises’ instead of ‘lifts’. Also, ‘stays’ is unnecessary. Using ‘floats’ would convey the same thing.


The orb falls down onto the table and rolls off when a knock is heard on our front door.

This is technically conveying the events in reverse order, because the knock actually happens first but is described last. Also, the final phrase is passive voice, which always makes my teeth ache. Passive voice never has the impact of active voice. I’d suggest something like this: A hard knock on the front door breaks Father’s concentration, and the orb falls to the table and rolls off the edge.


“Hide,” he hisses, but I don’t move a muscle.

I’m the first to admit I hate said bookisms more than the average person. They are frequently distracting and in many cases (like this one) physically impossible. One cannot hiss a sentence containing no ‘s’. Also, be careful of clichés like ‘don’t move a muscle’. Some editors find clichés so annoying that they have lists of the ones they never want to see again and post them on the publishing house web site.


Goosebumps rise on my bare arms and my wet limp hair slaps against my back like a stone mop, I fear them more than my father fears for me.

The punctuation in this sentence is distracting, and the sentence is rather long. Readers can get lost in as few as twelve words, especially with multiple thoughts strung together with conjunctions and commas. Also, when using adjectives, try to avoid (as much as possible) giving any one noun more than one adjective. It turns into overkill pretty quickly. I would suggest something like this: Goosebumps rise on my bare arms. My wet, limp hair slaps against my back like a stone mop. I fear them more than my father fears for me.

My final comment on this line is that I don’t get the ‘stone mop’ description.


“Please, Nayla, they will brand you and kill you, please…” he begs.

An example of another said bookism and why they are usually unnecessary. In the dialogue, her father is begging. Why use ‘begs’ as a dialogue tag? It’s redundant. Also, ‘please’ at the beginning and the end is a little overwrought. If you want to keep it, I’d make the last 'please' a sentence all by itself.


“Father,” I take his hands and hold them like I did when I was a little girl.

The way you have this punctuated, the dialogue tag contains no dialogue tag. Taking her father’s hands and holding them does not result in speech, and so is a separate sentence rather than a dialogue tag.

You could have: “Father,” I say, taking his hands and holding them like I did when I was a little girl.

Or: “Father...” I take his hands and hold them like I did when I was a little girl.


The voice is slow, with a lingering accent and I recognize it to be one of the head councilor’s of the Majority.

Needs a comma after ‘accent’ and ‘counsellor’ in place of ‘councilor’.

Okay, that’s it for my line-by-line comments. It’s hard to comment on story with so few words. My only concern regarding story is that I don’t really know or care about Nayla yet, so throwing her in harm’s way this quickly doesn’t have as much impact as it would otherwise. For as short as the passage is, I do think you’ve done a good job of introducing some of Nayla’s character. You might want to see if anyone else makes a similar comment and (if so) then consider a bit more build up before ‘they’ show up to take her.

That’s it. No big technical issues. Mostly minor punctuation issues easily fixed and a bit of construction work. Good luck with this project. Thanks for sharing it with us.
Last edited by Margo on June 15th, 2010, 2:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Urban fantasy, epic fantasy, and hot Norse elves. http://margolerwill.blogspot.com/

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khanes
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Re: Born to Die opening *Critique?*

Post by khanes » June 15th, 2010, 12:45 pm

Hi Nessa!

First of all, I love this opening scene. It really grabbed me as a reader, and as the other posters suggest, it would be good to fix the comma situation. My eyes were so busy fixing the grammar that it pulled me a bit out of the story. I actually liked the "stone mop" description, it was unique and one of my favorites. I can imagine exactly how wet, cold hair feels on my back. ICK!

I was a big confused by the concentration camp line. When you mentioned branding and concentration camps, I immediately placed this story at the time of the Nazis in Germany, and assumed these two characters are Jews. However, the Majority, and the Yeeod don't sound like they are from World War 2. Maybe if I read the query or the back of the book jacket I would understand before leaping into the story. However, if I were just to read this opening scene, I'd have a hard time placing the time/world. Is this a fantasy?

Anyway, I loved the tense scene, and there are many questions about the orb and what it does. I would definately read further to find out what happens! I think you added great details that personalized the characters, and I felt as though I could vividly picture what is happening here. Good job!

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Re: Born to Die opening *Critique?*

Post by Wheelsgr » June 15th, 2010, 4:19 pm

Hello
First off, I must say that I would want to read more - I felt the tension of the scene right off the bat and for some reason this type of scene felt familiar. The word to describe it is not predictable but I get a sense that this is what I would expect of a good read and so it felt very snug and familiar and I wanted to keep on reading which is pretty excellent for an excerpt.
I have to agree with what one commenter said which was that the term "concentration camps" creates a kind of knee-jerk reaction when it comes to word association and you might want to be careful about that - especially in an introductory section of your story. It causes unnecessary confusion that take away from the well-built tension.

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Re: Born to Die opening *Critique?*

Post by Aimée » June 17th, 2010, 1:12 pm

I liked it. The present tense really brings the reader into the intensity of the moment. I was also a little confused at "concentration camps." I'm guessing this is science fiction or something like that? I also like your title. "Born to Die." It sounds like a Live Free or Die Hard type of thing. hahaha Intense and intriguing title.

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Re: Born to Die opening *Critique?*

Post by aleeza876 » June 18th, 2010, 3:26 pm

I really liked it. Pretty much everything I was going to critique about other people have already pointed out. I'd definitely want to read more. :)
I write to escape reality, to escape the stifling heat of Karachi, to actually spend time with a nice, respectful, and essentially swoon-worthy teenage blonde guy. I write to escape a contary reality.

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Re: Born to Die opening *Critique?*

Post by RebeccaHamilton » June 26th, 2010, 10:35 am

I concentrate as hard as I can, but I know I will never do what my father wants; I will never lift the orb. I look into my father's desperate brown eyes. Beads of sweat have formed on his brow and his face is flushed.
Instead of "I look" maybe "His eyes are desperate, maybe even a little sad." (that's my voice, but the main idea of the suggestion is to cut "i look" and also "brown" she isn't going to be thinking about the color of his eyes. she's seen his eyes before. How important is it that his eyes are brown anyway?
Okay, I could be simple and say to make this "Beads of sweat have formed on his brow and his face is flushed." active, but I think it's important that they beads of sweat are already there. So a simple "Beads of sweat form on his..." won't work. Try this... "A bead of sweat rolls from his brow and over his temple." or something similar. Have the sweat move from the brow, and you are able to keep the fact that it's already there, as well as make the detail active. you can move the face being flushed to before that, in that case.
His face is flushed. A bead of sweat rolls from his brown and between his eyes. or whatever.
"I am a yeeod," I say. "I'm so sorry, father."

Grasping my shoulders, he pulls me closer. I want to look away from his intense stare, but I'm afraid it would only confirm my guilt. “Listen to me Nayla. You are not a Yeeod don't say that, never say that. No child of mine will be taken, branded and worked to death at the concentration camps.”
The punctuation in dialogue is off. "You are not a Yeeod[.] Don't say that--never say that."
Intriguing overall. Why is yeeod capped here but not in the previous line?
Breathing hard, I look back at the gold orb. I stare at it, willing for it to move, hoping for at least the softest wisp of wind from the open window to help, but nothing happens for a long few minutes. I turn to my father; he is shaking his head, his jaw clenched and his eyes racing.
You have a lot of looking. Suggestion. "Breathing hard, I refocus on the gold orb. I will it to move, hoping.....nothing happens." (cut for a long few minutes. It's not needed, imo. but of course, when receiving critique you should only take what feels right and ditch the rest)

“Nayla, you must be just nervous. One last time, let me show you.” His voice is hoarse and he lifts his trembling hands and stares hard at the orb.
Just so you know, as a reader, the voice is different if you write "One last time, let me show you." Versus. "One last time. Let me show you." The first is YODA from star wars. The second is a person talking normal. Another normal option is "Let me show you one last time." Though I like it split up in the reverse.
It lifts easily as if it is meant to fly and stays floating in the air. The orb falls down onto the table and rolls off when a knock is heard on our front door. They are here for me.
The orb falls [down] onto the table.... Cut "down". These directionals can clutter up writing. We know it fell DOWN. Now, if it fell UP that is something worth specifying!
“Hide,” he hisses, but I don’t move [a muscle].
I'd delete "a muscle". Tighten up your writing.
Goosebumps rise on my bare arms and my wet limp hair slaps against my back like a stone mop, I fear them more than my father fears for me. "No," I say. "I have to face my fears, you taught me that."
"my wet limp hair slaps against my back like a stone mop" excellent! but "wet" and "limp" are both adjectives you are listing to describe the hair, and so they should be separated by a comma. (google commas listing adjectives) "wet, limp hair slaps"
Also, "I fear them more" is a new sentence. with the comma there, you have an extremely awkward comma splice. Some comma splices work, though. Read up on them to learn how to use them effectively.Also, I don't understand the meaning of the sentence. She fears them more than her father fears for her? Does that mean she is more afraid they will hurt her than her father is afraid they will hurt her? If so, why doesn't she hide, like he suggested? To me, it sounds like HE is more afraid for her.
“Please, Nayla, they will brand you and kill you, please…” he begs. But if I hide they will only kill him and I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. I have to face them.
But if I hide... should be on it's own line. I like that you give us the reason for her not hiding here, but just so we're clear, that still doesn't clear up the above for me.
“Father,” I take his hands and hold them like I did when I was a little girl. They are cold and trembling. So are mine. “Don’t be scared for me. I will stay strong. Find mother for me. Only remember I love you.” My voice is shaking like never before and is softer than a whisper. I feel cold tingles all over me. This is the last time I will see him. The knocking on the door gets more impatient and a voice calls in.
Punctuation issue here. You come to a full stop after little girl, instead of continuing onto the rest of the dialogue. It's not a dialogue tag, it's an action. You want a period after Father.
You could do:
"Father,"--I take his hands and hold them like I did when I was a little girl--"Don't be scared for me."
or
"Father," I say, taking his hands and holding them like when I was a little girl, "don't be scared for me."
or
"Father." I take his hands and hold them like I did when I was a little girl. They are cold and trembling. So are mine. “Don’t be scared for me."
or
"Father," I say,taking his cold, trembling hands and holding them like I did when I was a little girl. “Don’t be scared for me.

Basically, a lot of options here, but trying to illustrate for you how dialogue punctuation works. This post might help:
I take his hands and hold them like I did when I was a little girl. They are cold and trembling. So are mine. “Don’t be scared for me.
“Mr. Ebriony, open the door or I will have to open it by force.” The voice is slow, with a lingering accent and I recognize it to be one of the head councilor’s of the Majority.
This sounds really good so far. Some elements here remind me of my own novel, of course, everything already been done before so all we have is that we've done it with our own fresh twist :) But I love stories like this.

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Re: Born to Die opening *Critique?*

Post by JayceeEA » June 28th, 2010, 7:19 pm

I think everyone has said something very crucial about this opening, and I'll just add one thing: I LOVED it. It was so grabbing that it transported me to the room itself where the character is with her father and both of them are so scared. I think it's something that will capture the mind of anyone who reads it. If you can correct the errors that the writers above have stated, you should be fine.

By the way, it reminds me of the opening scene in the movie 'Inglorious Basterds.' Did you get some inspiration from it?

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