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After The Madness Workshop # B-11

Saturday, 31 March 2012  |  Posted by Brenda Drake

Welcome to day six of After the Madness Workshop! Shelley Watters, Erica Chapman, the writers at YAtopia, and myself will critique the first 250 words of  two brave writers’ manuscripts per day for the next seven to eight days. There are four blogs joining in to offer up suggestions. Click on my partners’ sites in my sidebar to view the other critiques.

And next up is …

B-11 Lisa Huber

The punch of the icy, cold steel evaporated the beads of sweat dripping down the back of his neck.  It shouldn’t have, but it felt good. A groan escaped Vander’s lips as he began to regain consciousness. Confusion?  Pain?  Fear?  All of the above.  A ding echoed in his ears. The steel behind his head vibrated.  Vander’s eyes labored open searching for answers, however found only darkness.  The darkness was manufactured:  a thick cloud tugged and tied tightly around his over-heating face. 
B’s notes: I’m not hooked with this beginning. I’d just say … ‘Vander groaned as he regained consciousness’. Simple clear sentences work best at inciting images in your readers’ minds. That first sentence is sort of a tongue tie and I’m not sure what’s going on. How is the steel punching? And how can it evaporate the beads of sweat? Also, I don’t know if it happened during the email transmission, but only use one space between sentences.
Reality came flooding back and the groggy haze vanished instantly while each sense shifted into overdrive.  His heavy breath mimicked the rapid rise and fall of his chest, blasting stale breath into his nose as it ricocheted off his head-covering.
B’s notes: I’d rework the first sentence of this paragraph. Like … ‘As his groggy haze vanished, reality hit him and his senses heightened.’ Or something like it. I’m sure you can do better. Just something less clunky.
It smelled like sweat and onions. B’s notes: What does ‘it’ refer to?
“Hello?” Vander choked, his fingers struggling with the noose-like knot around his neck.  Luckily, the rope peeled off easier than expected.
B’s notes: Maybe change peeled to a different verb? I’m picturing a rotting rope peeling away. 
Vander ripped off what turned out to be a dirty burlap sack.  The outside read scallions with a capital R in red letters scrawled beneath it.
B’s notes: Is there a reason we need to know what’s on the outside of the sack? If not, I’d lose it to keep the scene flowing.
No wonder it smelled like onions, Vander thought to himself. 

B’s notes: If he’s thinking, it’s to himself.
Although the scallion helmet had been removed, little light entered the space.  A single, urine-colored bulb hung by a straggly wire five feet away; his eyes struggled to make out the shadows on the perimeter of the room.  All he could establish for certain was the concrete floor branded by random splotches of white paint and haphazardly placed chinks as if someone had chased a crab across the floor with an ice-pick.
B’s notes: I’d rework the first sentence on the above paragraph to avoid the past perfect here. Maybe an action instead? Like… ‘Vander squinted, searching the dimly lit space.’  Or something like it, but better. 

I’m not sure this is where your story starts. I’m not completely hooked yet. I am curious as to why Vander is in this predicament, though. What did he do to get into this situation? Maybe, that’s where your story starts?  

I hope this helps!

Remember this is subjective and others’ may feel differently. So I’ll now pass it on to the readers to critique. Please leave your comments, and remember the rules of critiquing … be nice, which I’m sure you all will be, but I have to say it … you know.


Filed: Misc, Workshops

  • Amber says:

    here’s my 2 cents…

    You’ve lost the movement to the descriptions. Descriptions are there to help the movement, not the other way around.

    I agree with everything Brenda said. It would be stronger with far less.

    My story is similar, where my mc wakes up beatened, a bit dazed, and in a prison…But that chapter follows the opening altercation that lands him there. So when my mc wakes up, the reader already knows who he is and how he got there.

    Help us connect to the mc.–hope this helped 🙂 Good luck.

  • Definitely feel like this is the kind of action (or break from action) that works better as a lull–after we’ve been swept away and need a break to absorb what’s happened. Onward!

  • Lisa Huber says:

    OK, ladies, here’s my plan: I’m going to start my story before all of this happens. Even though Vander doesn’t know why he’s in this scene, in order for the audience to care about his confusion they have to connect to him first…yes?

    I’m pickin’ up what you’re puttin’ down. THANKS!

  • I don’t have much to add (thought about just writing “ditto,” but that’s not helpful!) I definitely second the advice to let us get to know your character before he wakes up confused.

    That said, I have seen very well-written and compelling stories that start with confusion(I read DITCHED by Robin Mellom last night and couldn’t put it down), but to really work, you need to be willing to give up more secrets in the beginning. If he’s confused, let him start piecing things together right away. Let us, as readers, discover the truth along with your character.

    While you don’t want to make all of your secrets obvious from the get-go, readers like to be able to outsmart the characters by figuring it out before they do. If I’m reading something that’s too evasive, I’ll get frustrated and simply put it down. If you introduce 4 questions in your opening, answer (or give strong hints to the answer for) one of the questions. Feel free to introduce new, unanswered questions each time you answer one, but don’t be afraid to share some information with your reader. (I hope this makes sense!)

  • Huh. Turns out I did have a lot to add 🙂

  • Lisa Huber says:

    LOL-thanks Veronica. The essence of the plot is that Vander needs to uncover hidden doors to escape this place, but the only way to do that is pass a series of tests. The answers to the tests come from his memories.

    Originally, I was going to have the reader learn about the MC through flashbacks (remembering the event that will help him find the door).

    It didn’t seem frustrating to me-well-because I can piece everything together in my head because I created it. However, probably won’t work for most readers.

    New plan: Instead of flashbacks, just start the story earlier so that the reader, as you said, can outsmart the character and hopefully figure out the relationship between his memories and the test-taking before he does. Then I accomplish several tasks: a)connection to MC, b)less confusion in the action because I’ve removed the flashbacks, c)a reader invested in figuring out the answers before they are presented.

    Thoughts on the change?

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