Monday, August 20, 2012

500 Word Critique: Adventure Story


It’s been a while since someone took me up on my offer to critique 500 words, and recently a lovely fourteen year old stepped up to the plate. So, here’s the snippet, followed by my critique. Please give your own feedback if you can (and keep it constructive!).

***
Raven gritted her teeth in frustration, her knuckles turning white against the ship's helm as she clutched it to bring the ship to a heave to, ready to meet the storm. Hazel eyes ringed with dark green blazed in anger and defiance, her jet-black hair plastered onto her forehead. 

"Cap'n, they've spo'ed us! She's headed our way! They be comin' from larboard!"

Damn it! she thought. Rain beat down in a relentless torrent upon the world, the waves roaring as loud and wild as a captured beast finally set free. Again and again, the vessel was jostled to and fro at the ocean's whim. It wasn't that Raven disliked the rain––she loved the feel of the drops cascading down her face and relished the wet that it brought with it––but she disliked the problems that it brought for her ship and her crew. Shutting her eyes, she tried her best to calm herself down and calm the ocean down, but to no avail. The sea had a will of its own. 

"All hands on deck!" she hollered in a loud, carrying voice that contrasted with her small build. She whirled to the man standing beside her, her first mate. Wide, light blue eyes studied her with an unnerving calm, as if the two of them were taking a stroll in the park and not riding the storm of their lives, and his auburn hair clung to his head.

"Jory, make sure tha' the loot is safe. Don't let anythin' happen to it, understand?" she commanded. 

"Aye aye, captain," he replied, and dashed down toward the bay, his tall, lithe figure lumbering farther away from her.

"Rags! Scrat!" she shouted at two men that were standing port, near the bridge. "Man the tiller!" The two nodded as they understood the command. "Kar!" she bellowed to the man on the crow's nest, and he looked down, though it was hard to make out the movement in the rain. "Keep an eye on the enemy!" She then yelled out for everyone to hear, "Free the sails! Put your backs into it! We be ridin' out this blasted storm!"

Raven struggled against the wheel as it tried its hardest to turn the opposite of the way she wanted. The rain beat down harder and faster than before, a feat she had considered impossible. It seemed that God had decided to turn the water on full blast, icy sheets pouring down with heartless abandon. Colorful curses flew from her mouth as she heard the dreaded cry of "Wave!", and she braced herself for impact. 

A wall of liquid ice slammed into her, the rain seeming almost warm in comparison, and she tightened her grip on the wheel to keep from losing her footing. Just when she was sure that she would have to open her lips and inhale a mouthful of cold water, the wave passed, leaving her rasping for breath and shuddering with cold in its wake.

Running her eyes across her ship, she scanned the occupants to ensure that none had become at mercy of the sea. Satisfied that everyone had made it, she returned her attention to the task at hand––steering her ship.

"Captain!" one of her crew called. "She's sprung a leak! Water's leakin' in fast in the hull!"

A few choice words flew out of her mouth. "Take Blarn and a few men to patch it up. Hurry! We've no' go' much time!" 

She would've gone herself, but she had to evade the cutlass flapping Navy dogs that were on her tail and steer in this blasted storm. 

"Aye aye!" he said, and then clambered toward the carpenter, Blarn.

Wave after wave of sloshing seawater slammed into the side of the ship. Sheet after sheet of icy rain rammed into her. Burst after burst of howling wind made her fingers, her face, her body go numb.

But none of that compared to what she heard next––cannon fire. Nearby. Her heart jumped into her throat and her eyes widened.

"They're here! They're near! Cap'n, they sneaked on us!"

"Rags! Weren't you keepin' an eye on 'em?!" she asked, her eyes narrowed and her mouth twisting into a frown, annoyed with the fact that he hadn't done his job. She was almost thrown off her feet as a succession of cannonballs collided with the larboard side of the ship. 

"Cap'n, they've hi' us with cannonballs! They've started firin'!" Rags replied, rather than answering her question.

"Oh, really? Couldn't have figured tha' one ou'!" she snapped, her temper sparked. "Rags, make yourself useful 'n' tell me how many they've go' onboard!"

"They've got...two dozen a' least! No, add another dozen to tha'! The ship's huge!" he shouted back, shocked, and then added with a touch of fright, "Cap'n, if they get us, we're doomed!"

***

My Critique
-------------
Raven gritted her teeth in frustration, her knuckles turning white against the ship's helm as she clutched it to bring the ship to a heave-to, ready to meet the storm. Hazel eyes ringed with dark green blazed in anger and defiance, her jet-black hair plastered onto her forehead. (This is the perfect way to introduce your character's description--using action and not a laundry list. I'm not sure it fits just here since we're in the middle of action. Or, at least, maybe not all of it. The hair could work, but the eyes could come later)

"Cap'n, they've spo'ed us! She's headed our way! They be comin' from larboard!" (I had to read this a couple times, but this is actually a clever way to show that Raven is the captain. At first, I thought it was Raven speaking, but then it becomes clear in the next paragraph that she didn't. So if the person speaking here is identified, that will solidify Raven's status aboard the ship)

Damn it! she thought. Rain beat down in a relentless torrent upon the world, the waves roaring as loud and wild as a captured beast finally set free. Again and again, the vessel was jostled to and fro at the ocean's whim. It wasn't that Raven disliked the rain––she loved the feel of the drops cascading down her face and relished the wet that it brought with it––but she disliked the problems that it brought for her ship and her crew. Shutting her eyes, she tried her best to calm herself down and calm the ocean down, but to no avail. The sea had a will of its own. (I like this bit of insight into Raven. I'm not sure it fits just here, since I've got a burning desire to know who's chasing them and why. This would be a good spot to reveal that info)

"All hands on deck!" she hollered in a loud, carrying voice that contrasted with her small build. She whirled to the man standing beside her, her first mate. Wide, light blue eyes studied her with an unnerving calm, as if the two of them were taking a stroll in the park and not riding the storm of their lives, and his auburn hair clung to his head.

"Jory, make sure tha' the loot is safe. Don't let anythin' happen to it, understand?" she commanded. 

"Aye aye, captain," he replied, and dashed down toward the bay, his tall, lithe figure lumbering farther away from her. (These two words contradict each other. Perhaps choose one and then a different descriptor?)

"Rags! Scrat!" she shouted at two men that were standing port, near the bridge. "Man the tiller!" The two nodded as they understood the command. "Kar!" she bellowed to the man on the crow's nest, and he looked down, though it was hard to make out the movement in the rain. "Keep an eye on the enemy!" She then yelled out for everyone to hear, "Free the sails! Put your backs into it! We be ridin' out this blasted storm!" (The first two commands make it seem like no one was manning the tiller, and that no one was keeping an eye on the enemy. But I'm sure they were or the situation would be very different. The last command seems like one she'd shout at this moment. Perhaps scale it down to that and have her direct the order at Rags, Scrat, and Jory. Or, Introduce them at a later time)

Raven struggled against the wheel as it tried its hardest to turn the opposite of the way she wanted. The rain beat down harder and faster than before, a feat she had considered impossible. It seemed that God had decided to turn the water on full blast, icy sheets pouring down with heartless abandon. Colorful curses flew from her mouth as she heard the dreaded cry of "Wave!", and she braced herself for impact. 

A wall of liquid ice slammed into her, the rain seeming almost warm in comparison, and she tightened her grip on the wheel to keep from losing her footing. Just when she was sure that she would have to open her lips and inhale a mouthful of cold water, the wave passed, leaving her rasping for breath and shuddering with cold in its wake. (nice description)

Running her eyes across her ship, she scanned the occupants to ensure that none had become at mercy of the sea. Satisfied that everyone had made it, she returned her attention to the task at hand––steering her ship.

"Captain!" one of her crew called. "She's sprung a leak! Water's leakin' in fast in the hull!" (How did it spring a leak? Waves on their own can't puncture a ship, but if the person chasing them managed to nick them with a cannon or something, that would do it)

A few choice words flew out of her mouth. "Take Blarn and a few men to patch it up. Hurry! We've no' go' much time!" 

She would've gone herself, but she had to evade the cutlass flapping Navy dogs that were on her tail and steer in this blasted storm. 

"Aye aye!" he said, and then clambered toward the carpenter, Blarn.

Wave after wave of sloshing seawater slammed into the side of the ship. Sheet after sheet of icy rain rammed into her. Burst after burst of howling wind made her fingers, her face, her body go numb.

But none of that compared to what she heard next––cannon fire. Nearby. Her heart jumped into her throat and her eyes widened. (We are in Raven's head for the first part of this sentence, but this last bit takes us out and puts us outside. Things that describe what she looks like go from in to out and removes the closeness that the reader feels, and they're often not necessary. Keep an eye out for these)

"They're here! They're near! Cap'n, they sneaked on us!" (Not sure how you sneak up on someone in a storm. It might be possible, but I'm having a hard time picturing it. Is it necessary that they sneak up on Raven's ship? Or can they just gradually get closer while Raven's ship tries and fails to lose them?)

"Rags! Weren't you keepin' an eye on 'em?!" she asked, her eyes narrowed and her mouth twisting into a frown, annoyed with the fact that he hadn't done his job. She was almost thrown off her feet as a succession of cannonballs collided with the larboard side of the ship. 

"Cap'n, they've hi' us with cannonballs! They've started firin'!" Rags replied, rather than answering her question.

"Oh, really? Couldn't have figured tha' one ou'!" she snapped, her temper sparked. "Rags, make yourself useful 'n' tell me how many they've go' onboard!"

"They've got...two dozen a' least! No, add another dozen to tha'! The ship's huge!" he shouted back, shocked, and then added with a touch of fright, "Cap'n, if they get us, we're doomed!"



General Thoughts: This sounds like the start of a great adventure. I like Raven. She feels real, and we are solidly inside her head. There are a few moments where we're brought outside of her, which was a bit jarring, but that's easily fixed. I would have liked to know why they were being chased--I'm guessing Raven is a pirate and 'the law' is chasing her to bring her to justice. But why? What did she do? And why is it so important that she get away? I'd rather have this info up front, and then show insights or the incompetence of some of her crew later on. 

But, overall, this is well written and sounds like a lot of fun. Keep going!!

5 comments:

Kelly Hashway said...

Great comments, Tabitha. I agree that the eye color mentioned in the first paragraph seemed like a bit too much for this part. The other descriptions fit the scene but there was no need to mention eye color here. I felt that way a little later on when she commented on the color of the eyes looking at her. Again, why do we need to know the color. If the eyes were as gray and stormy as sea, then maybe, but otherwise, it felt like unnecessary detail and that can distract from the action in the scene.

Like Tabitha, I wanted to know more about why they were being chased. Adding that in would heighten the tension.

Overall, this is a great start and I wanted to read more.

Sarah Negovetich said...

Good stuff here. I agree with what you've got.

One thing I might add is to be careful with the dialect. It isn't distracting in this section, but an entire book with all the main characters speaking that way could become hard for the reader.

cleemckenzie said...

Wow and only 14. I see another author coming up here. Great work. You guided her nicely to do a bit of rewriting.

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

I love that we start right in the middle of the action, and there's a lot going on.

If I could make any suggestions, it would be to streamline the prose a bit where descriptions are repeated. For example:

"Again and again, the vessel was jostled to and fro"
to "The vessel was jostled" (or better yet, "the ocean jostled the vessel")

"she hollered in a loud, carrying voice"
"loud, carrying voice" is already implied in "hollered"

"Wide, light blue eyes studied her with an unnerving calm, as if the two of them were taking a stroll in the park and not riding the storm of their lives"
I would end this at "unnerving calm," which gets the point across

The scene is quite vivid, and comes to life. I like the use of multiple senses: touch, sight, and sound. Good job!

Ayesha Saleem said...

Oh, goodness, thank you so much, Tabitha, Kelly, Sarah, cleemckenzie, and Jennifer! I see now that there were quite a few things that I'd added unnecessarily, and a few tidbits that I was missing. Thanks for pointing those out so that I can fix 'em! Also, I'll use this as an example to help me edit the rest of my novel, when I get to that stage.
This is why I love great concrit givers. It may make ya wince a little on the inside, but it opens your eyes, too. :)
Thank you guys again for the valuable comments. I really appreciate it! :D
@Kelly: I added it in there to give the reader a better description of what the characters looked like, but I see now that that may not have been the right place to put it. x)
@Sarah: It's only Raven and Rags that speak that way, but yeah, I do have to add a bit of distinction between the two.
@cleemckenzie and Jennifer: Thank you!