Thank you all so much for participating yesterday! And for being so helpful and nice at the same time. You guys are the best, and I hope it's been interesting to see examples of writing/editing to go along with all the advice we always hear/read.
On to Day 2! Adam Heine, one of my favorite people, offered the first 500 words of his WIP. Thanks for letting us all take a look! My comments are below, please leave your own as well.
Rules: Please feel free to comment, but be constructive. If you want to know my definition of that, see my post about Critiquing With Class. Of course this is a crit session, but I expect politeness and helpfulness.
The mortars came first, but it was the infants’ cries that woke Mah Htawy. Even with her children long dead, or perhaps lost in the jungles of Burma, she still had the instincts of a mother.
(Just so you know, I'm going to be really picky. Mostly because your writing is clean enough that I can be. "Mortars" in this paragraph threw me at first because I wasn't sure of setting and was thinking "bombs or like the mortar between bricks?" But that's a very optional change, since it's quickly cleared up and your target audience may get that and I'm just slow.
Also watch the "was." Perhaps that could be made more active like, "but the crying infant woke Mah." You have a few of these later too.
And the other nit-pick, "jungles of Burma" could be "Burma's jungle" or, uh, "Burmean jungle"? I'm not sure if that's right but you get the picture.)
She grabbed what few belongings she had and waited. The Mae Surin camp had never been attacked before, so there were no bunkers as there had been at Mai Nai Soi. If a mortar shell came through her roof, she was dead. She could only pray until the shelling stopped.
(I'm not sure if Mai Nai Soi is an important location, but if it's not I would replace it with something like "the other refugee camp." There are already a few foreign words, and at the beginning it's good to keep those to as few as possible until we get familiar with the place.
Again a "was" sentence. But maybe you can't avoid that one.)
For the next five or ten minutes, Mah Htawy hugged her knees in the middle of the room. The bamboo floor shook with each explosion. When it stopped, Mah waited, listening. A minute later, the village lit up as though the midday sun had burst into the sky.
(I would cut "For the next five or ten minutes." It's strange, but I've found that mentioning time has the opposite effect of what we normally think. It's doesn't increase tension, it decreases it. The reader often imagines more urgency without it.)
They were coming. She ran.
(I like this use of a one liner, and I think it'll have more impact with the other "were/was" structures gone. Or it could just be "She ran." That might be cool. Or if you want to go more active, perhaps something like "Footsteps trodded closer." Whatever, what you have is fine, too.)
Nobody knew where the soldiers would come from. Her fellow refugees ran in all directions, hiding underneath their houses, in the jungle, in the rice fields. There was shouting. An RPG blew up the house in front of her. Mah Htawy knew the family who lived there. They owned a radio, and on Wednesday nights she would visit and listen to Thai pop songs with them. Their daughter was named Hla Aye, she thought. It didn’t matter now. They were beneath their house when it was hit.
("Come from" in the first line is a little weak, perhaps a stronger verb like "appear." Again there's that short "There was shouting." I'm on the fence with that. Not bad, but I wonder if something like "Shouts rang in her ears." could keep the pace up better. I think you could cut "visit and" and just keep "listen," since visiting is implied there. Also, the name of their daughter may not be necessary.)
Machine guns spat behind her. Karenni refugees fell to either side. Another grenade exploded not two meters away, tossing Mah through the air and into the dirt.
She wasn’t dead, not yet. Dazed by the blast, she lay still while refugees and soldiers ran past. A baby’s muffled crying came from somewhere near her left hand. Mah prayed the soldier’s didn’t stop to look for it.
(Maybe just "cry" instead of "crying." This is also the second time you've used praying as an action. Not that I'm against praying, but for repetition's sake maybe another word to vary things up.)
When all had gone, Mah picked herself up and saw a woman she didn’t know lying dead in a ditch. The crying came from underneath her. Mah should have left. A baby could only slow her down, and its screams would make hiding impossible. But her heart betrayed her. She lifted the dead mother and pulled the baby from the dirt. A girl, only three or four months old.
(For brevity's sake, maybe "unknown woman" instead of "a woman she didn't know.")
With the girl in her arms, she fled to the edge of the village. Luckily she saw no one, not even the Thai soldiers who were supposed to protect them. She followed the road until the sound of a motorbike frightened her, and she leapt into the jungle.
She lay there, too tired to get up. Fortunately the soldiers, or whoever it was, didn’t hear the baby’s crying above the whine of their engine. As her body calmed, so did the baby. Soon the little girl stopped crying and fell asleep.
(I'm not sure about "whine." It doesn't seem like a loud enough verb to cover a baby crying.)
Mah Htawy cursed herself for picking up the child. Doing so had only prolonged its death, and possibly ensured her own. She considered leaving it there, but she was too weary to get up. She would do nothing for now. She would decide what to do in the morning, if the baby lived that long.
(The sentences get a little repetitive at the end here. Some variation might help. One example: "If the baby lived until morning, she'd decide what to do then.")
Overall, I think this is a fabulous start. We get a sense of Mah's character right from the beginning. Her past is eluded to without being overbearing. She takes noble action to save a child she maybe shouldn't save.
The setting is fabulous as well, and I think it could only be improved with maybe a few more sensory details. There is a lot of sight and sound, and perhaps adding others would make it that much better. Of course that's personal taste. I'd just like to see maybe a little more heat of the jungle, from the bombs. Maybe the taste of the smoke. Not anything huge or in depth—I'm not saying to destroy your pacing. Just something to keep in mind.
And, uh...that's it? I'm grasping at straws here. Good job, Adam.