Under the Microscope: A Raven’s Touch

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Under the Microscope is the type of post where we dive into the first section of a story to dig out the nuts and bolts. The idea is to provide a learning experience based on the critiques and compliments that occur as a result. This is not meant to be taken as a traditional critique, and all comments are based on my personal opinion.

If you’d like to submit a story for a future episode, head to the UtM submission page.

 

Linda asks:

  • Does the beginning make sense?
  • Is there too much description?
  • Does it catch your attention?

Genre: New Adult Paranormal

 

A Raven’s Touch (original text):

“No, not again,” I whisper through gritted teeth.

It started two days ago. The burning, like a hot iron pressed into parts of my flesh right between my shoulder blades. My familiar comfy bed has become a stranger to me. Each night as I lay down I hope it will be different. I toss and turn, never able to find a comfortable spot. Each position feels like daggers raking over my body. Always at five in the morning, the itching, the need, the pain flares through my veins.

Only my pillow hears my muffled screams. My hand scrambles like a live wire, reaching under my mattress to find my makeshift mouth guard. I gnash my teeth and bite hard. Pain explodes through me. I writhe and see stars. The strap is wearing thin. Grunting and groaning, I can’t scratch hard enough, fast enough.

My hand is sticky and hot; crimson patterns form on the sheets. Half-running, half-loping, I make it to my bathroom. I flip on the switch and for a brief moment the light paralyzes me, and I squint. I don’t recognize the face in the mirror. Widened, deep, blue eyes stared back at me. Long, thick, black hair strewn wildly, and teeth bared ready to snap. Who is this snarling girl? Where is the usual smiling Justice St. Michaels? I feel a slow trickle down my back as a red drop splatters the floor. I’m bleeding again.

A tremor passes through my body and my hands shake visibly. I ball my fingers into fists to avoid tearing my back apart. I try to hold my hands by my side, but they inch closer to my skin. The pain is so fierce I slam my back against the bathroom wall to avoid scratching and hit the wall so hard my vanity shakes. Tears stream down my face.

“Please, God, please stop the pain. Please,” I beg.

 

 

A Raven’s Touch (my thoughts in blue):

["No, not again," I whisper through gritted teeth. I tend to shy away from dialogue as the opening line, although that is not a hard-fast rule.]

[It started two days ago. This would be a better opening line. Had I read this as the first line, I would've leaned forward to wonder what "it" was. Having this after the initial line of dialogue waters this effect down a bit.] [The burning, like a hot iron pressed into parts of my flesh right between my shoulder blades. This feels like an incomplete sentence to me. You could rather say "The burning feels like a hot . . . "] [My familiar comfy bed has become a stranger to me. Each night as I lay down, I hope it will be different. I toss and turn, never able to find a comfortable spot. Each position feels like daggers raking over my body. Always at five in the morning, the itching, the need, the pain flares through my veins. This is all pretty intriguing. You have my attention with all the mystery you're creating. I'm also wondering why 5am on the dot.]

Only my pillow hears my muffled screams. [My hand scrambles like a live wire I like this simile], reaching under my mattress [to find my makeshift mouth guard. I gnash my teeth and bite hard. Pain explodes through me. I writhe and see stars. The strap is wearing thin. The mouth guard tidbit isn't terribly clear to me. It seems to me that the pain is too overwhelming to have the wherewithal to install a mouth guard.] [Grunting and groaning, I can't scratch hard enough, fast enough. Although you had mentioned the back earlier, I'm losing focus on where the pain is. It might not hurt to refocus where the pain is coming from.]

[ [My hand is sticky and hot Perhaps consider: "My hand comes back red" as the last line had her reaching around to her back. There's a lot of thick description in all this, so some simplicity might be welcoming.] ; crimson patterns form on the sheets. Half-running, half-loping, I make it to my bathroom. Okay, at this point you’re still holding my interest about the mystery element.] I flip on the switch and for a brief moment the light paralyzes me, and I squint. I don’t recognize the face in the mirror. [Widened, deep, blue eyes stared back at me. Is this to suggest that her eyes changed color? Does she not recognize her own widened eyes?] Long, thick, black hair strewn wildly, and teeth bared ready to snap. [Who is this snarling girl? This seemingly hypothetical question pulled me out of the story a bit.] [Where is the usual smiling Justice St. Michaels? To me, this feels like a cheat to pass along her name to the reader.] [I feel a slow trickle down my back as a red drop splatters the floor. I'm bleeding again. Nice! These two lines snapped me right back into the story. I find that in suspenseful scenes, short, bleak sentences pack a punch. Honestly, I dipped out a bit with some of the physical description and the self-questions, but this brought me back.]

[A tremor passes through my body, and my hands shake visibly. I ball my fingers into fists to avoid tearing my back apart. By this point, I'm feeling fatigued by this same type of play-by-play. This is the fourth paragraph with little new information on what's happening. It's all good writing, but I'm starting to feel the urge to gloss over it to find out what the next step is.] I try to hold my hands by my side, but they inch closer to my skin. The pain is so fierce I slam my back against the bathroom wall to avoid [scratching I found myself asking, "Scratching what?" Even though I could probably guess, some specifics might not hurt here.] and hit the wall so hard my vanity shakes. [Tears stream down my face. Pacing wise, I'm liking the flavor of the short, punchy sentences at the end of your longer paragraphs.]

["Please, God, please stop the pain. Please," I beg. I know she's pleading, but perhaps consider a few less "pleases" in there.]

 

Questions
Does the beginning make sense? Honestly, there’s not a lot of information there other than how much pain she’s in. So, if you’re referring to if it makes sense that she’s in pain and that it’s an urgent situation, then the answer is yes. Overall, I would say that more progression could give me a bit more sense. If I were to make a pure stab of it, I would guess that she is sprouting wings out of her back. If that’s the case, you might consider adding in other elements to show a sense of progression. For example, step one: pain, step two: a breaking of the skin, step three: a feather, step four: more feathers, step five: tendons of the wings, etc. I’m not saying that you have to show all those steps or even that my guess is correct, but I’m just giving a random example. If my guess is totally off base, you may consider offering a hint in the more correct direction.

Is there too much description? I would say there is too much description, yes. More so, as mentioned earlier, it seems to go over the same stage of event too long. It could be that later in the book (after the reader has a chance to care about the character more) this much description would be fine, but at the beginning of the book the reader generally wants to feel the sense of progression and moving forward. In other words, the reader might be asking, “Okay, what’s next?”

Does it catch your attention? Absolutely. You have me wondering what is happening to her, how long this has been happening, how she’s processing it in her mind, how this affects her daily life, etc. The element of mystery has peaked my interest, and if I were reading this in a normal setting, I would continue.

 

A special thank you to Linda for submitting. It’s not an easy thing to share your work, particularly in a public forum. I look forward to hearing good things about her future writing endeavors.

To the readers/writers: was this helpful? I welcome your comments below. If so, I’ll make it more of a regular thing.

 

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Image courtesy of Hartwig HKD via Flickr, Creative Commons

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32 thoughts on “Under the Microscope: A Raven’s Touch

  1. I just found this site and love the concept. In terms of your review comments, I totally agree. I would also add that the verb tenses were a little inconsistent. However, I really enjoyed the richness of your descriptions and word selection.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a really interesting idea. It takes a lot of courage to put your work out in the public forum and let people critique it. Your critique was the way critique is meant to me: honest without being cruel. Pointing out the good points while making suggestions about the parts that don’t work. I hope Linda appreciated your critique and that it helped her become a better writer.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Really interesting! And very brave of the writer. Can I make a suggestion? I hope you won’t mind. It’s really difficult to describe a first person character and I like the way Linda has dissociated her from her appearance by using the mirror. I think it could be even more powerful if you take that further using the animalistic thing that was created with bared teeth. Something like ‘Her snarling bared teeth were ready to snap … ‘ and take the description from there. It’s still clear it’s the narrator but you can talk about her in third person. Does that make sense? Please feel free to ignore this if you disagree. It’s a really good opening and I’m dying to know why she’s bleeding.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Of course, you can! All comments are welcome.
      Your suggestion is not a bad one, but I do use a word of caution for using mirrors as a way to initially describe a protagonist’s description. It’s become a bit of a cliche.

      I do like your suggestion of the snarls though. :)

      I agree that Linda included a lot of juicy intrigue in this, which I’m sure she’ll transpose into her new rewrite. Thanks for reading!

      Like

  4. Hi Ryan, this is great! A very well balanced critique of Linda’s work (which was intriguing indeed) Thanks also for the likes on my blog, much appreciated. It’s a strange journey, this path to writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I agree with your advice here. I love opening a book with an action, but dialogue can work. It’s tricky though isn’t it? I also love statements in an open line that make the reader curious as to its meaning.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Well done lindabloodworth, lovely start, well done theryanlanz, great critique. I hope you don’t mind me putting in my two cents worth (less tax).
    I think I see where you were going with the story, great idea! I think reading the critique confirmed what you thought – that you had painted a bit too much detail onto your canvas. But if you read carefully, there were a couple of spots where it was a bit thin. Like the leather strap she was using as makeshift pain relief. It was one of the first comments I got back from early manuscripts of my book – too much information in some parts and not enough in others. I suppose it’s like you are taking the reader down a road. Put in too much detail and their slogging through mud, too little and they are so busy trying to find the road that they cannot enjoy the view. it’s hard to remember that the reader can’t see into your mind.
    As for scrapping it and doing the field bit, what about both? Par the first description right down – ending with the bloodied hand – and then switch to the second scene in the field but start with the bloodied hand? Lead the reader right to the very edge blindfolded and then have then look down the abyss! Let them get comfortable, then pull the rug out!
    (evil author, aren’t I?)

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Pingback: How Do You Take Criticism? | A Writer's Path

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