We’re back with another critique! Thank you all so much for having the courage to send them in! We know it’s never easy to have your writing critiqued, let alone shared for the benefit of others. That takes guts! But we also know that receiving critiques from others is one of the THE BEST ways to grow and improve. Constructive criticism is invaluable!
Today’s submission is an excerpt from Tessa’s novel, Bondage
Thank you so much Tessa for this awesome excerpt!
‘Swish. Swish. Swish.’ The sound of straw being moved, filled the longhouse. Katrina, an attractive fifteen year old, blinked as a burst of sun filled the gloomy inside.
Describing Katrina as an attractive fifteen year old doesn’t work for a couple reasons. First, it appears that this scene is being written from Katrina’s POV, and I find it hard to believe that she would describe herself like that. =P Second, this kind of thing works a lot better if you show the reader this rather than tell them. Describe the dimples in her cheeks, the flow of her hair, the way that she smiles, or whatever it is that makes her attractive in order to bring this across to the reader.
A tall boy grinned down at her through the hole in the roof and teasingly dropped a few strands of straw into her hair. She glared up at him.
“You’d have been sorry if I’d been making your meal here,” she scolded. “Can’t you give us some warning next time?”
The boy, Lang, laughed good-naturedly. “I told you that Miska and I were replacing the thatch today. You should have chosen to do something outside.” He turned and looked at the other boy working behind him.
Can Katrina see this other boy?
“Can you bring up the fresh straw, Miksa?” he asked.
Katrina and Lang winced. How they hated that title. The two siblings had offered friendship to Miksa on more than one occasion, but he refused it. Katrina’s troubled blue eyes gazed up into Lang’s equally troubled brown eyes. Lang leaned
in down towards her.
Again, given that this seems to be written from Katrina’s POV, it doesn’t make sense to describe her eyes as troubled since she can’t know what her eyes look like.
“Meet me in our secret place tonight,” he whispered. He glanced over his shoulder. “I need to talk.”
Katrina nodded and went back to her spinning.
Miksa, meanwhile was struggling to climb the ladder with the new straw. He was trying to climb one-handed while balancing the straw in his right arm. His right hand was useless having been severely burnt only six months ago, and though he tried to wave the hardship off, he felt acutely how it handicapped him. He couldn’t even hold a spoon in his hand, for it had healed with the skin pulling all his fingers into the palm of his hand. And it hadn’t been his fault…
This is a bit too much backstory to have in the first chapter. Cut it down to what’s necessary (possibly just describing his hand at this point), and then fill the reader in on the other details later on in the story.
“Hang on, Miksa,” called Lang. He reached down and took the bundled straw from Miksa’s arm. Miksa lowered his head to hide the tears of envy and fury that burned up inside of him. He watched as Lang laid the straw and then expertly tied it in place. He would never be able to do that again.
So, he’s upset that he isn’t able to tie straw to the roof? I don’t automatically understand why it is that it’s his inability to do this specific thing that depresses him, so you probably need to explain this more.
Sadness overcame all other feelings. There were a lot of things he’d never be able to do again. And worse than that, no one would ever trust him. His hand saw to that. For it was the mark of a thief.
‘Lord Jesus, why did you let this happen to me? What did I do?’ Still fighting tears, Miksa gritted his teeth and continued his work, the best he could.
That evening Miksa sat in the shadow of the longhouse carving a flute out of a sheep’s leg bone. The murmur of voices talking came through the turf wall to where he sat.
“We’re almost out of meat,” said Lotte, her voice, soft and motherly.
“We’ll be able to butcher the cow to tomorrow.” Erik, Lang’s father, had a deep soothing voice that Miksa loved to listen to. Erik treated him well, and Miksa had learnt a lot from him. Butchering would be fun. But he knew that he would have to keep the joy inside. Never would he display any such emotion in front of Lang. It was true that Lang had offered his friendship more than once, but Lang was his master and he was just a thrall.
There! With one final scrape his flute was done. He rose and headed for the forest.
Overall thoughts: Erik and Katrina both worked pretty well in the scene they were in and look like enjoyable characters to interact with each other. Miksa looks like he has a lot of potential, but I think you’re overdoing it some in the opening pages here. My suggestion would be to make him a lot more subtle and his thoughts a lot more subdued initially so that you can take time to develop and heighten them over the course of the story.
I’m also a bit concerned with how short the scenes are so far. I’m not quite sure as a reader which one of these characters I’m supposed to be following first. Since Erik and Katrina got the first scene, I’m assuming they’re the protagonists, but then we leave them behind for a bit to get introduced to Miksa. All of this means that it’s hard for the reader to maintain his focus. My suggestion would be to start with either Erik/Katrina or with Miksa and to spend all of the first chapter developing them before moving onto the other one, just so that the reader gets time to really know those characters before you switch view-points.
Good job overall!
– Josiah DeGraaf