Featured Post

Enter my Get Followers Giveaway and win a copy of DOUBLE PLAY

I'm so close to 1000 followers on Twitter! Follow, enter here, and tweet about it to win a copy after I get 1000 followers! a Raffle...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Variety Critique: From "Word and Deed" by Rachel

Rachel, who has offered us up some truly entertaining short stories for Variety, has agreed to run the gautlet and let me critique her current WIP. The excerpt is the first chapter of "Word and Deed," which she hopes to be able to release later this year.

Word and Deed
By Rachel Rossano

Chapter One
“You are weak, Verdon. You kill like a woman!”
I hissed. {Use “said” or “asked” 99% of the time. I’ve spent a great deal of elbow grease trying to disprove this “rule,” but from everything I’ve read on the subject, the mundane words should be used over the interesting ones. [http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/attributives.aspx
http://www.writing-world.com/fiction/said.shtml ... yeah, I totally just included a link to one of my own posts.] When picking out an attributive, remember two things: 1) Can what is described actually be done? For instance try hissing the sentence you wrote, try shrieking it if that’s the word used. 2) The dialog should drive the sentence. If the wording itself doesn’t lend to an obvious tone, reword it. Attributives are just another form of “telling.” Another argument for this is that a reader’s mind will skip over “said” and “asked;” adding a word like “hissed,” “shrieked,” or “bellowed” jars the reader and may pull them from the story. And the best advice is, if you can leave out the attributive, do it. Put an action there instead. In this case, perhaps “You are weak, Verdon. You kill like a woman!” I pointed the tip of my sword into his chest. –Or something like that. One note, the dialog here is already very indicative of the tone: accusing, cruel, etc.}

His narrow shoulders tensed. A hush fell over our late father’s great hall, such that the groan of the dog lying before the hearth sounded abnormally loud. {The wording here is a bit confusing. I had to read through it a couple times to understand}
Sick with anger and helplessness, I gloried in his reaction. He could condemn me to a living death {After reading through once, I wonder what she means here. An agent at a conference once advised to always be as specific as you can to avoid confusing a reader.} , but I, his weak sister, could evoke fire in my frigid half-brother. I knew his soft places where the words would sting most. Rage prodded me on.
“Your mother would writhe in her grave if she saw the slovenly murderer she brought forth. It would be better for her if you never lived.”
“Hush, mistress, hush.” Nurse Ealdine’s {Still having a nurse, instead of perhaps a maid, at her side, makes me think the main character is very young, maybe 12 or 13. Later though, we learn that the main character will soon be married. How old is she?} hands trembled where they gripped my arm.
She had good reason to cower. My cheek still stung from Verdon’s last loss of composure. Wisdom urged me to let go of the burning emotion in my gut. Yet, {Unnecessary comma (UC)} the anger demanded I rant or sob.
I refused to give Verdon the satisfaction of tears.
His fingers closed on the hilt of our father’s sword. My sword. Our father promised it to me, yet Verdon refused me even that. I unleashed the final blow.
“Our father would rise up and call you coward for this act.” {What act is she talking about? After reading through, I’m still not sure. Taking the sword? Or selling her to a greedy husband?}
The impact of his fist snapped my head back. I welcomed the pain. It grounded the anger, distracting from the agony in my chest that began with our father’s death. The grief ached with every breath those moments I missed him most. I was helpless without Father’s protection, a fact never more clear than now. {I love the insights here to her character. A girl who longs to be independent but knows she needs a man and is frustrated and hurt by it at the same time.}
Another blow, this time behind my right ear, rocked my sense of the earth. The crack of my skull on the stone echoed, preceding searing pain. A fog blanketed my senses. The hand I lifted to my scalp came away red.
“Foolish, Verdon.” Sir Hirion’s face wavered above me. I blinked, but he remained out of focus. “Lord Silvaticus paid for a living bride, not a corpse. Wisdom advises {Awkward wording. I like to read my questionable sentences to out loud to see how they sound. It usually surprises me that off the paper, it’s not the way I imagined it.} that you remain in Silvaticus’ favor.”
“A fortnight is time enough for her to heal. I have not left a lasting mark on her features, only her head. He will see nothing amiss and thank me. Now lock her in the tower. I grow weary of her curses.”
Rough hands lifted me from the floor. Nurse’s pleas for caution grew distant as my senses finally faded.
I woke to dust and a moldy flavor on my tongue. The convulsion of my sneeze morphed into a cry of agony. I ached as though trampled by a horse.
“Hush, love, calm.” Cool hands touched my face and then stroked my wrists. “Hush. The pain will pass.”
“I{Ellipsis punctuation (EP). A space should occur before and after an ellipsis in the middle of a sentence. He sounded … sad.
A space should occur before an ellipsis at the end of a sentence. He sounded sad. … (Use a period at the end of the sentence; directly after the word, no space.)
http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Writing/e.html. In this case “I [space] …”}
My voice grated my throat raw. {I don’t think of a voice as something physical in a sense that it can do physical damage, so this sentence almost throws me. I understand the image, and it’s a good one, but it makes me stop and think instead of me rolling onto the next sentence.} Unbidden tears pricked at my eyes. I would not cry. “Wa {Only because she says in the sentence before that she won’t cry, this almost seems like the beginning of a baby type cry (Wah!) If she’s trying to say a word, perhaps use another one or two letters to prevent confusion.} {EP}
A cool, wet rim pressed to my mouth. I drank. The fluid tasted ill. I would have spit, but I needed the moisture.
“It rained last night and { Use a comma to join to independent phrases with a coordinating conjunction. (from Diana Hackers “A Writer’s Reference”) I call this rule P1-a. “It rained last night” and “I didn’t have a clean vessel” are both independent phrases—they could be sentences by themselves, so they need a comma between them. “It rained last night, and I didn’t have a clean vessel.” When one or both of the phrases are short and/or there would be no confusion by leaving a comma out, the comma may be omitted at the author’s discretion. (I sometimes take them out if they’ll be an overabundance of commas in the sentence with it, and I know it won’t confuse the meaning.)}  I didn’t have a clean vessel. Your brother allowed you water, but not enough,” Nurse Ealdine explained. She offered the cup again. I drank with gratitude. Once my thirst was quenched, I pushed it away.
“I was foolish.”
“Child, words spoken in anger are rarely wise.” {LOL! So true.}
“The apology will hurt my pride thrice the agony of my headache.”
“Humility takes strength to cultivate.” She spoke the words of my sire.
I opened my eyes slowly. The light, filtered through the lattice over the window, pierced my eyes. I grimaced up at the wooden ceiling beams.
“The tower again?” I croaked. Only three months ago I stared up at these beams. Then I had been too ill with grief to care where I was. Father had {“Had” and forms of “to be” are often indications of “telling.” Are there ways to reword these two sentences to cut down on them?}  just died. Verdon, drunk with power, banished me and my whetted tongue.
Then his marriage plans gained me the reprieve. Dangling like a lure before all the rich and powerful nobles, I had {I almost always advise to delete Unnecessary Words (UW) where it will not change the meaning or tone of the sentence. http://raneesclark.blogspot.com/2011/10/decluttering-getting-rid-of-unnessary.html ... yeah, another link to my own blog ;) } smiled and kept my tongue silent. Lords and knights alike evaluated me with bored or lecherous features. They placed a price on my hand, womb, and inheritance. Apparently, the last was the crucial attribute to my new lord and master.
Lord Silvaticus purchased me without bothering to lay eyes on me. He witnessed instead the perfection of my land and coveted the strategic value of the cliffs on the southern coast. He wished to build a fortress. Hardly a flattering decision.
I dreamed like any other maid of a mate who loved me in word and deed. The hope poisoned by my brother’s greed died with the betrothal announcement. I was now the property of Lord Silvanticus, a man with a heart of ice. All he had to do was come claim me.
“Your brother decreed you are to speak with none but me until your husband comes to claim you. I am only to attend you three hours each day.” Ealdine fussed with my bandage. My head still throbbed, further reminder to keep my temper before Verdon.
 “Did he ban the garden?”
“Nay, you are allowed exercise within the walls, but the gate has been barred from without.”
The garden was a small yard at the base of the tower, adjacent the practice yard and closed off by a twelve foot wall with a single door. The space, though minimally acceptable for brief walking, was rich in wild flora. The tower’s original resident, my grandmother, spent hours in the garden daily until her death when I was twelve. Now the unkempt jungle of overgrowth would be a haven as I awaited my husband. {A paragraph like this, dropped into the middle of dialog, disrupts the action. Can the description wait until later? Perhaps when she actually goes to the garden?}
“He wishes me to crave human contact.” Verdon also knew the chinks in my armor. {When this speech is place next to an “action” of Verdon’s, it almost seems as if he’s saying it. Perhaps start a new paragraph with “Verdon also knew …” I think it would be clear that the main character and not Ealdine is speaking.} After the previous confinement, I sought contact, conversation, and interaction with others.
“If he wished that, he would have denied you me also.” Ealdine stroked my forehead, hands soft with age. “Now sleep. You need rest.”
My skull pulsed in rhythm with my heartbeat. I closed my eyes and attempted to sleep. I would write my apology in the morn.

The chapter definitely provides some questions that will keep me turning pages. Why do the main character and Verdon hate each other so much? Was Verdon close to their father like the Main Character? What will her betrothed be like?
Something to consider: We don’t know the name or age of the main character—essential knowledge that should be passed on in the first few paragraphs.

(c) 2012 Rachel Rossano


  1. Thank you so much, Ranee, for the post and for the editing. You helped so much. :)

    Word and Deed is on Amazon now for 99 cents: http://www.amazon.com/Word-and-Deed-ebook/dp/B006WQM2NE

    I posted the polished section on my blog for comparisons. :) http://rachel-rossano.blogspot.com/2012/01/glimpse-at-editing-process.html

  2. That's a lot of work, going through every sentence with a fine-comb. Thank you for this. I'm taking away two lessons from this post - the comma between two independent sentences and the fact that 'said' and 'asked' are mostly adequate and don't need the more descriptive words adding to the tone.
    I realized that first while reading Harry Potter. It's true of all good books written before the last decade, but somehow that was the first time I really noticed it. In my own compositions, I had started using an overabundance of adverbs and attributives, so it puzzled me when I realized I actually enjoyed the prose more without those unnecessary words. The dialogues kept my interest not the phrase beyond the quotes.
    Anyway, thanks. Good to know my decision to stick to just plain 'said' wasn't misguided.


About Me!

I've been writing since I was old enough to grasp a crayon--my grandma even has an early copy of a "book" I made her. I have a bachelor's degree in history from the University of Wyoming and will (hopefully) soon be starting a graduate program in English. When I'm not breaking up impromptu UFC fights in the living room or losing miserably to my boys at Uno, I'm ... well, writing or editing, of course! I'm married to my best friend, and we have three rambunctious but simply amazing little boys.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...