Monday, January 31, 2011

500 Word Critique: YA Paranormal

In case you were wondering, I'm still doing 500 word critiques. Most of you have asked me not to post your work to my blog, which is fine. But there are still some folks out there who are willing to share this with others, and this is the first person who's shared her identity! So, here's Sherry from Dark Angel's Blog, and her first 500 words. If you want to read more, here's a link to the entire first chapter.

In the past, I've just posted the story with my comments inline, but I'm going to do this one a little differently. I'm going to post the excerpt first, then put a second excerpt with my comments after that. This way you all can read without being influenced by my opinions. :)

YA Paranormal Excerpt:
For as long as I can remember, I’ve heard whispers in the shadows—dark, twisting shapes that chilled my blood. Evil things that gave me nightmares and made me fear the dark. During the day, I normally felt safe with the heat of the sun brushing my skin, but nightfall roused a trembling that traveled from my legs and vibrated up my neck.


When they showed up this morning, I immediately recognized the trace of chilling menace that limped up my spine, congealing my blood into ice. This primitive instinct, like a sixth sense, always hit me whenever the shadows appeared.

I’d been writing an essay for my English class on my deepest fears. On the floor near the desk lay my other crumbled attempts. I wasn’t thrilled by the assignment. Most of my friends were writing about their fear of not getting into a good college or asked to the prom. Me? I wrote about Nyctophobia, an irrational fear of the dark.

I stood up, scanning all the dim corners of the room. My gut clenched tight. Then I got on my hands and knees to check under the bed. Nothing. The closet door stood open a crack. I wavered, shoulders hitching.

Dragging myself toward the closet, I pushed the door open with my foot. The overhead light revealed nothing unusual. Why was I feeling so freaked?

Chill out, Serenity. I told myself it was just a case of overactive imagination when a rush on the edge of my skin made me shiver. Stupid, stupid, stupid! I’d forgotten to keep my telekinetic shield up. Again.

A maelstrom of shadows caught my peripheral vision. They murmured in an ancient language, covering the white carpet like an opaque stain. Within the inky blobs were glittering dots. Crimson eyes. Open and staring. Spiny obsidian fingers reached out to grab my ankles--anthracite things with darkling eyes, feeding off my fear, doled out like so much bitter candy.

Behind me, the floorboards creaked beneath the worn carpet.

I glanced over my shoulder--and froze.

An amorphous darkness crept along the wall, different from the others. The malevolent shape slithered closer, swirling in front of my wide eyes. As though the dark had come alive and coalesced while I watched, taking on form--human form. The figure pulsated like a nimbus of crude oil, growing until it nearly reached the ceiling. Muscles stretching over bones, skin twitching, a resurrection of glittering obsidian, smooth and razor-sharp, created out of darkness, out of shadows. It throbbed, altered, trickled into limbs, and flesh and...

Oh, God, the thing was almost touching me. I yelped and stumbled back, bumping into a chair. My heartbeat roared in my ears. He wasn’t a shadow. He wasn’t a ghost. Darkness Incarnate. A big bad evil. Whatever.

I shook my head hoping the image would fade away. The headshake didn’t make a difference. Only confirmed my worst nightmare…

Darkness had become corporal and was standing in my purple bedroom.
 
My Comments:

This is very intriguing! You’ve done a good job of introducing new elements, providing a little explanation so the reader isn’t confused, and also given a few new elements that prompt more questions—such as the telekinetic shield. My comments are in green below.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve heard whispers in the shadows—dark, twisting shapes that chilled my blood. [Evil things that gave me nightmares and made me fear the dark. During the day, I normally felt safe with the heat of the sun brushing my skin, but nightfall roused a trembling that traveled from my legs and vibrated up my neck.] These two sentences paint a picture that I’m not sure you want. It makes the main character seem fearful, crippled by the dark and by these shadow things that keep hounding her. It’s one thing to show a horrible enemy that hounds your character, but you also don’t want her to seem like a complete coward who’s afraid of her own shadow. I get the feeling that she’s not, based on later descriptions, but saying that she’s afraid of the dark can come across as cowardly. I think the reference to nightmares says it all, and implies the fear that would come with the dark without actually saying that she’s afraid of the dark. I hope that made sense. :)

When they showed up this morning, I immediately recognized (be careful with statements like ‘I recognized/saw/heard/noticed/realized/etc. These are classic telling phrases, and are implied because the story is being told from one person’s perspective. So, instead of telling us that she recognized something, show us how the thing appeared familiar to her) the trace of chilling menace that limped up my spine, congealing my blood into ice. This primitive instinct, like a sixth sense, always hit me whenever the shadows appeared. (The last sentence repeats a lot of the sentiments from the first. Is it possible to combine the two? For example: When they showed up this morning, the chilling menace limped up my spine and congealed my blood into ice. Just like they’ve always done.)

I’d been writing an essay for my English class on my deepest fears. On the floor near the desk lay my other crumbled (crumpled? Crumbled implies her other attempts are disintegrating into crumbs) attempts. I wasn’t thrilled by the assignment (this is implied by the other attempts littering her floor :) ). Most of my friends were writing about their fear of not getting into a good college or asked to the prom. Me? I wrote about Nyctophobia, an irrational fear of the dark. (it takes a good amount of bravery to discuss the things we fear deeply, so this is a bit conflicting. Unless she’s ready to deal with that fear, facing it head on and moving past it, I can’t see her choosing this topic. A more realistic response might be that she feels she ought to write about it, but is too afraid to.)

I stood up, scanning all the dim corners of the room. My gut clenched tight. Then I got on my hands and knees to check under the bed. Nothing. The closet door stood open a crack. I wavered, shoulders hitching.

Dragging myself toward the closet, I pushed the door open with my foot. The overhead light revealed nothing unusual. Why was I feeling so freaked? (little bit of conflicting info here—above, she’s telling us that she recognized the chilling menace as what happens whenever the shadows appeared, but here she’s not sure. This act of her questioning herself and searching the room has more tension than the earlier statement of the chilling menace and congealing blood, so perhaps keep this one instead?)

Chill out, Serenity. I told myself it was just a case of overactive imagination when a rush on the edge of my skin made me shiver.

Stupid, stupid, stupid! I’d forgotten to keep my telekinetic shield up. Again. (interesting twist...)

A maelstrom of shadows caught my peripheral vision (this is implied since the story is told through her eyes, so we know everything is going to come through her senses—it’s also telling. Instead of telling us that she caught something in her peripheral vision, show us how they caught her attention). They murmured in an ancient language, covering the white carpet like an opaque stain. Within the inky blobs were glittering dots. Crimson eyes. Open and staring. Spiny obsidian fingers reached out to grab my ankles--anthracite things with darkling eyes, feeding off my fear, doled out like so much bitter candy. (this is a perfect opportunity to show us her fear. How does it grasp her? How does it affect her? The focus of this scene is external—the way the shadows look and move. But, since she’s got an irrational fear of the dark, we need to feel her fear here. It should be thick and palpable, and the reader needs to feel his own heart beating and throat closing right along with her. Show those feelings to us)

Behind me, the floorboards creaked beneath the worn carpet.

I glanced over my shoulder--and froze.

An amorphous darkness crept along the wall, different from the others (how is it different? I know it’s has no form, but how does it move? What differentiates it from the others?). The malevolent shape slithered closer, swirling in front of my wide eyes. As though the dark had come alive and coalesced while I watched, taking on form--human form (seems like this description would come after the next few sentences?). The figure pulsated like a nimbus of crude oil, growing until it nearly reached the ceiling. Muscles stretching over bones, skin twitching, a resurrection of glittering obsidian, smooth and razor-sharp, created out of darkness, out of shadows. It throbbed, altered, trickled into limbs, and flesh and...

Oh, God, the thing was almost touching me. I yelped and stumbled back, bumping into a chair. My heartbeat roared in my ears. He wasn’t a shadow. He wasn’t a ghost. Darkness Incarnate. A big bad evil. Whatever. (this is good—it gives us her thoughts and some of her reaction to this shadow taking a human shape in her bedroom. We need more. Someone who has a phobia would have a violently emotional reaction to this. Heck, even a normal person would have a violently emotional reaction to this. :) Especially if it’s the first time she’s seeing it. If you took this much deeper, your story will grab your readers by the throat and demand that they keep reading. And they will, because they won’t be able to help themselves. :) )

I shook my head hoping the image would fade away. The headshake didn’t make a difference. Only confirmed my worst nightmare…

Darkness had become corporal and was standing in my purple bedroom. (be careful with these last two paragraphs because statements like these can sometimes come across as cliché. This kind of sounds like a chapter ending, except we’re still in the middle of a scene and at the start of some pretty serious excitement. So I’m not sure this works here. Perhaps take us directly into the confrontation instead? I’m guessing there will be a confrontation, seeing as there’s no clear escape for Serenity. Which is a very good thing. :) )
***

So? What did you all think? I thought this was great. With a little more depth, it could be amazing...

7 comments:

Christine Danek said...

I really liked this. I agree with a little more depth this coudl be a fantastic piece. I really enjoyed it want to read on.

Tabitha said...

The author gave me permission to identify her, and even provided a link to the entire first chapter. I've just added it, so if you want to read more then you can!

kellyhashway said...

Very interesting. I enjoyed your comments as well, and agreed with almost all of them.

Mflick1 said...

I like this author's bravery! And I loved her passage and your edits! Maybe I will work up the courage to have you do a passage of mine!

Dark Angel said...

Thanks again for the feedback and helpful suggestions.

I feel there is ALWAYS room for improvement. I've made a few changes based on your edits and hopefully it is more vivid and palpable.

I always strive to make my first line, paragraph, and chapter hook the reader into the story by showing the character's conflict.

Mary Witzl said...

Great critique. I always read these and get ideas how to change what I've written. Kudos to the writer for submitting it and letting us see this process!

Dark Angel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.