Critique Technique Part 2
I submitted some fairly unedited text to Edittorrent. You can read it here. They did a pretty good job with it, and it’s a good example of what to look for in a critique. BTW everyone, it’s iapetus with an i.
Here is a small bit of background that those editors didn’t have. This is typical for critiques; they usually are considered in the context of the rest of the story:
During a meeting with our villain, Dawn freaks out, feeling something bad is about to happen. She is being transported back to a jail in a van when the ground begins shaking violently. The van tips over and she escapes her captors. She runs through the city, avoiding falling buildings and crumpling streets. She finds some relative safety in an old cemetery. The earthquake grows in intensity, until…
Original line in italics.
Edittorrent comments in normal face.
My comments in BLUE.
A bulge of earth in the distance raced towards her at jet speed. As it passed, the ground ripped upwards, throwing Dawn into the air, almost 15 meters high. The earth threw off the top layers of soil, flinging buried pipes and wires as well as huge chunks of asphalt and concrete into the air. Dawn sailed over the soil, reminded of documentaries where tons of dynamite blew away a wall of material. The earth exploded in every direction. Dawn crashed onto a soft pile of debris and ducked from rain of high-flung rocks and bricks. A couple blocks away, Charlotte’s jewel, the HLSCO HQ building, the huge elegant structure almost a kilometer high, crumpled into itself, imploding in a huge cloud of dust and noise. Dawn spotted her own apartment complex, presumably with her Aunt Rose inside, settling down to the ground in a plume of debris.
"Bulge" seems to me still attached to the earth, not a projectile. Not sure if anyone else felt that way! Or do you mean it was still attached?
This should probably be “A bulge in the earth”
You know, a line of description might clear this up-- however, it's possible only I didn't get it.
I’m going to work on this a little more. With powerful quakes, you can actually see the earth ripple like waves on the ocean. If you watch videos of nukes, you can see this.
Good frenetic feel here, right for an action scene. Yay!
As it passed, the ground ripped upwards, throwing Dawn into the air, almost 15 meters high. The earth threw off the top layers of soil, flinging buried pipes and wires as well as huge chunks of asphalt and concrete into the air.
Maybe earlier say where we are? See if you can sneak it in-- like the bulge of earth ran past a highrise (we're in a city) or a silo (we're in the country).
This is out of context, so we know she’s in a cemetery within the city.
Notice that you've buried the experience of the POV character, in the middle of a line. How close are you to her own feelings? If you're in deep POV, or any kind of personal POV, you'll want to tell how it feels to be flung that way. If you're in omniscient, however, you want to concentrate on the overall scene-- but seeing a person flung into the air might be worth describing. Are her arms flailing, etc?
This is unfortunately typical of how I write drafts, where I just tell everything. :( It’s probably my number one style problem right now.
Dawn sailed over the soil, reminded of documentaries where tons of dynamite blew away a wall of material.
Uh, this doesn't seem to be a real person. She's sailing through the air, and a bulge of earth is pursuing her, and she's thinking about documentaries? Come on. Be in her. Close your eyes and imagine that you are her, and you are there on earth and suddenly you're flung into the air, and there is NOTHING you can do, but you try to do it anyway-- grab at the air, reach down for the earth, anything that can stop your flight. Be in her, and tell us what it feels like, and what you're thinking as you sail through the air to probable death.
I just love that image and I tried to sneak it in. I knew it wouldn’t fly (pun intended :). I’m thinking of rewriting sections in first person to get inside my character, then changing it back to third and see how that works. Or maybe I should go into screenwriting. Nah.
If you want to talk about documentaries, you need to be in omniscient POV, I think.
I think I see the topic of my next blog: what POV should I write in? Because I don’t know, and I’m not getting it right.
Then again, maybe she's a lot cooler under pressure than I am!
The earth exploded in every direction. Dawn crashed onto a soft pile of debris and ducked from rain of high-flung rocks and bricks.
How does it feel to crash? Can she scramble up, look wildly around, and then duck?
Noted. She’s dazed and confused, and of course terrified. This is the most dramatic scene in the novel save the final climactic scene (which makes this look like a walk in the park), so I have my work cut out.
A couple blocks away, Charlotte’s jewel, the HLSCO HQ building, the huge elegant structure almost a kilometer high, crumpled into itself, imploding in a huge cloud of dust and noise.
I like that "almost a kilometer high", and I can really see it "crumpling".
Maybe too many short elements there? The punctuation is right, but so many short elements might be kind of choppy, and the main purpose of the sentence might be lost. Maybe if you get rid of "Charlotte's jewel"? and end the sentence thus:
crumpled into itself and imploded in a cloud of dust and noise.
See what you think--
That sounds better. See? Editors do help. :)
Dawn spotted her own apartment complex, presumably with her Aunt Rose inside, settling down to the ground in a plume of debris.
I'd delete that "presumably" right away, as it bleeds out all your credibility. Come on, this is a novel. You're in charge. Aunt Ruth is there, as far as Dawn knows.
Hmm. I like that thought, that I’m in charge. I do rule this novel! Sometimes authors need a slap in the face.
I live in the Midwest, and we have tornadoes that will mow down a town and then delicately take one car and set it down undented a mile away. So I envision that apartment complex landing intact and just causing a big dustbomb as it lands. What do you mean? Is the apartment complex destroyed? Tell us.
Good idea. It’s a 300+ story complex, taller than the HQ building. It takes a while to fall down, too, like half a minute.
Also, Dawn is not just a camera. What's going on with her? Is she crouched behind a broken shard of concrete, watching helplessly as her home hurtles by and crashes into the cornfield/desert/parking lot?
See that? I don't know where we are-- the verdant farmland, the desert, the suburbs. "Ground" can be on the moon, for all I know. You did mention Charlotte, presumably the North Carolina city and not the girl I went to high school with. But you know, I'm from Virginia, just north of there, and I still want to know-- are those buildings crashing into the mountains? the mall? a lake?
Got it. I make sure the context is clear. Need to get in Dawn’s head. Working on it.
Look for non-informative words. "Ground" says less than "dirt" even. Sneak in info whenever you can without calling too much attention to it. You can almost always replace a generic word like "ground" with something more interesting, like "the North Carolina clay," or "the desert sand," or "the mall parking lot."
Challenge yourself. Find every generic word and see if you can specific it up. :)
So I took my own advice, and rewrote it in first person, trying to get into my character’s head:
I staggered over to an old cemetery covered with dust. My throat ached and my eyes watered. I waved the dust away and covered my face with my shirt. My legs trembled, and I felt dizzy and disorientated. I prayed that this terrible vision would stop, that I would wake up in my apartment and everything would be fine, that there wouldn’t be bodies and buildings lying everywhere. The earth kept swaying as if I walked inside a canoe. I trembled with every cry and scream that mingled with the thunder of collapsing buildings, sounding like a rollercoaster that continuously plunged down. My voice keened as I looked around for a safe place, only to find nothing. From my small hill, I looked down past the airport towards the Catawba River. The land over there seemed to rise up in a wave, traveling towards me like a train. The river splashed into the air like someone was fishing with dynamite. Everything in the wave’s path exploded into the air. A plane tumbled into a fireball as it landed. I ducked, covering my head, knowing the wave would hit me in seconds. The ground dipped and then pulsed upwards, throwing me and the very ground I stood on far into the air. I screamed, swimming in tombstones and debris. The dirt blinded and choked me as reached out for anything. I hung in the air like a ragdoll tossed by a child, helpless and frantic, seeing nothing but brown soil flying everywhere.
The dirt collapsed back onto the ground. I landed with a thump on the freshly turned soil while tons of the stuff rained onto my back. A tombstone narrowly missed my head. I gasped for air, my lungs refusing to function. Pain shot through my body from a dozen places as rocks hit me. I pushed myself up before the raining soil could bury me. My head swam from lack of oxygen and I felt faint. As I rose, holding my arms over my head, my blood froze. A couple blocks away, the enormous HLSCO HQ building—where I had just been interrogated—imploded, folding in on itself in a tower of dust. I felt my stomach charge up my throat when I spotted the next sight. I watched the Edenville Sky Towers, all 325 floors, sink down to the streets with my Aunt Rose inside. I tried to scream but dirt clogged my throat. I retched, falling to my knees as my stomach spewed its contents. I could only breathe in tiny quick inhalations like a dog panting. My Eyespy warned me of my dangerously low oxygen saturation, and my Earbug chimed, another reminder that I was dying.
And then converted to 3rd person with some additional minor edits:
Dawn staggered over to an old cemetery covered with dust. Her throat ached and her eyes watered. She waved the dust away and covered her face with her shirt. Her legs trembled, and she felt dizzy and disorientated. She prayed that this terrible vision would stop—that she would wake up in her apartment and everything would be fine, without bodies and buildings lying everywhere. The earth kept swaying as if she walked inside a canoe. She shuddered at the cries and screams mingling with the thunder of collapsing buildings, sounding like a rollercoaster plunging down in an infinite loop. From a small hill, she looked down past the airport towards the Catawba River. The land rose up in a wave that travelled towards her like a train. The river splashed into the air like someone was fishing with dynamite. Everything in the wave’s path exploded into the air. A plane tumbled into a fireball as it landed. Dawn ducked, covering her head, fearing the wave would strike her in seconds. The ground dipped and then pulsed upwards, throwing her and the cemetery plots far into the air. She screamed, swimming in tombstones and debris. The dirt blinded and choked her as reached out for anything. She hung in the air like a ragdoll tossed by a child, helpless and frantic, seeing nothing but brown soil flying everywhere.
The dirt collapsed back onto the ground. Dawn landed with a thump on the freshly turned soil while tons of earth rained onto her back. A tombstone narrowly missed her head. She gasped for air, her lungs refusing to function. Pain shot through her body in a dozen places as rocks pummeled her. Dawn dug herself up before the raining soil could bury her, her arms and legs burning from exertion. Her head swam from lack of oxygen and she felt faint. She rose, holding her arms over her head, and her blood froze. A couple blocks away, the enormous HLSCO HQ building—where she had just been interrogated—imploded, folding in on itself in a tower of dust. She felt her stomach charge up her throat when she spotted the next sight. The Edenville Sky Towers, all 325 floors, sank down to the streets with Aunt Rose inside. She tried to scream but dirt clogged her throat. She retched, falling to her knees as her stomach spewed its contents. She could only breathe in tiny quick inhalations like a dog panting. Her Eyespy warned her of dangerously low oxygen saturation, and her Earbug chimed, another reminder that she was dying.
Okay, still not perfect, but is it better? It’s a heck of a lot longer, so I need to trim it. I think I grabbed a few things from surrounding paragraphs, so the whole chapter can be pared down.
Now your turn. What additional edits do I need now? What still needs work? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Dawn thought it appropriate to flee to a cemetery, because when she spotted the wave of destruction flying towards her across the landscape, she knew she was about to die. In the distance, a violent upheaval of earth raced along, flinging rivers into the air, tossing cars like toys, and detonating the ground like a vast field of dynamite. She prayed that this was a vision, one of her crazy delusions. It felt so real, and the fear reached down to her bones, shaking her knees and cramping her stomach. She saw Death coming in the form of an earthquake beyond her poor power to comprehend. The wave carved down streets and buildings, then before she could take another breath, it flung her and the contents of cemetery high into the air. She closed her eyes and held her arms across her face as she sailed through the flying soil, tensing her body in anticipation of the final impact that spelled her doom.
With a violent whump, she landed in a pile of loose dirt. Her breath escaped her body and she lay there trying to draw in air while dirt and debris rained down. Her eyes refused to focus, her legs threatened to collapse, and the dirt prepared to bury her like the other corpses all around her. Dawn clawed her way free, her breath finally coming in tiny gasps. Her only thought was survival. Just survive one more second. She pulled herself up by grasping a large tombstone that had narrowly missed crushing her head. She cleared the dirt in her eyes, and witnessed a sight that froze her. The grand HQ building, a kilometer high and the pinnacle of modern architecture, imploded on itself and collapsed into the streets in a huge cloud of dust. Dawn knew thousands of people worked there, all crushed in an instant. Another sight made Dawn wish she had died in the cemetery. The Edenville Sky Towers, all 325 stories, tilted and fell down, thundering and generating more dark dust clouds. Dawn’s heart sank. Not Rose. Please, not Rose. This vision has to stop. This can’t be happening. I want it to stop. Now! Everything she had in the world just vanished. Her family, her home, her job, her city, all destroyed in one instant. She fell to her knees as her stomach rebelled and purged itself, then she rolled onto her back, wishing her suffering would just end.