If you have checked out our Roadmap recently, you will see we had the goal of launching “KP Critiques” in May, a feature where we would critique novel excepts you send us and post them on the website. However, we are ahead of schedule, and are launching it today!
Get your novel excerpt critiqued!
If you have a novel excerpt 800–3,000 words in length that you would like us to critique, email it to us at Kingdompenmag@gmail.com with the subject line, “KP Critiques,” and we’ll get to work on giving you feedback. We’ll then post the critique on our website for the benefit of others who may be struggling with the same mistakes in their writing.
We received this idea from Alyssa, who asked for feedback on the opening paragraph she had submitted to the BYN contest. Therefore, our first critique will be a little shorter than what they will be in the future.
Thank you, Alyssa, for inspiring KP Critiques!
Here is her submission:
G.S.I In Danger
Damascus Syria; August 24, 2014
Deep in the heart of Syria hidden among the array of buildings in the midst of Damascus, The Council met. With curtains drawn and lights dimmed the mass of 250 selected members gathered to discuss the rousing problems that were engulfing them on all sides. Into their midst walked a tall, handsome Muslim; missing an arm he cautiously eyed each of them. His head was raised high, his eyes were sharp with hatred and he spoke in a low tone rising with bitterness as he addressed his audience. He was the commanding officer of all Muslim troops in Syria, sent by the Brotherhood to wipe out the Christian resistance, and he was determined to do it.
Here is our critique:
Deep in the heart of Syria hidden among the array of buildings in the midst of Damascus, The Council met.
This opening sentence is weak, and sounds rather juvenile. Why? Because it is “telling” and not showing. It sounds like I’m being read or told a bedtime story, rather than being immersed in the story.
The goal of the author is to not be seen. We don’t want to tell the reader our story, we want to show it to them. This is a fine way of telling a story if you are speaking it, but your readers don’t want to be told a story. They want to be immersed in a story, and for it to feel real. “Telling” distances the reader from your story, which makes it more likely they will become bored, and put your book down.
This sentence is also passive, which makes it dull. Nothing is happening. Rather than telling us the council met, you would be better off starting this scene actually IN the middle of the meeting. Maybe a menacing and interesting one-liner from the leader which intrigues the reader. Through the conversation and details you provide, you can make it clear to the reader that they are in a secret meeting in Damascus, but don’t actually come out and say it.
With curtains drawn and lights dimmed the mass of 250 selected members gathered to discuss the rousing problems that were engulfing them on all sides.
Very similar to the opening sentence, this is all telling. You can show that it is dark in the meeting room by maybe mentioning that the Point of View character is having a hard time reading the facial expressions of one of the other members because of the darkness in the room or something. SHOW the characters interacting with the environment, rather than just telling us what it is like. I personally really struggle to do this myself. I’ve always been bad at description actually. Haha! Takes a lot of practice.
Don’t tell us they are having problems, SHOW us they are having problems with the dialog. Maybe have someone’s tone of voice rise. Have characters voice their fear and worry. The reader will be able to actually SEE there are problems, without you telling us.
Into their midst walked a tall
I’m feeling very disconnected from the story because I don’t feel like I’m seeing the situation from the POV of any of the characters. Instead, I’m being told the story from a detached narrator. Even if you are going to use 3rd person omniscient POV, it’s best to still center it around whichever character is the Main Character in a particular scene.
This is rather vague. What does handsome really mean? Is he tall? Muscular? Generally, it’s better to actually describe what a character looks like, rather than just saying they are “handsome” or “pretty” as every reader will have a different idea in their mind what this means, and it’s likely they will get a completely different picture than what you intended.
his eyes were sharp with hatred
Telling. Describe what his face looks like. We’ll see the hatred without you telling us it is hatred.
He was the commanding officer of all Muslim troops in Syria, sent by the Brotherhood to wipe out the Christian resistance, and he was determined to do it.
Again. Telling. Show us that he is the commanding officer. Show us that he wants to wipe out the Christian resistance.
In summary, I think you could probably cut this entire paragraph. I’m not sure what happens next in the story, but I think all of this information could be better revealed in the midst of action or dialogue. Certainly, there are times where “telling” is appropriate, but almost never do you want to begin a novel this way.
Going forward, be on the lookout for this passive “telling” rather than “showing.” If you find a place where you are “telling,” think to yourself, “Can this information be conveyed by ‘showing’ instead?” If you find a chunk of writing which has a LOT of “telling” you might just be better off cutting it altogether.
People talk about “Show, don’t tell” a lot in the writing world, but it’s not always so easy to master. It takes more conscious effort to focus on showing, whereas I think telling is easier, and therefore more natural for us to fall back on.
It’s March, so to give a basketball example. You can know the correct technique for shooting a basketball, but if it hasn’t become second nature to you from practice, then in the heat of the action during a game, you’ll probably just resort to what is easy and natural (a.k.a. bad shooting form). Learning to show just takes practice, and sometimes you can tell even when you think you’re showing. I certainly haven’t mastered this technique myself yet, but! That is what editing is for.
I hope this helps!
– Reagan Ramm
We hope you all enjoyed this critique! Thanks again to Alyssa for this idea. Do you have a story excerpt you would like us to critique? Please send it in! Don’t be shy! Also, the poorer the quality the better!
Critiques from others are essential to growing as a writer and improving your story. Taking criticism is often very difficult for writers since our stories are a part of us, it’s hard not to take the criticism personally. But your story is not you, but a complicated machine and a work of art all bound up into one complex and intricate entity. For it to function and shine, the kinks must be worked out, and the strengths highlighted.
We can’t wait to critique your submissions!