Thursday, June 3, 2010

Mini Workshop: Day 3

This has been so interesting so far, and I hope you're enjoying it as well. Today we have a piece from Rivkie (which is like the coolest name I've heard in a while). Thanks, Riv, for letting us take a look!

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 Excerpt:
Becca winced, but didn’t cry out as the whip struck her back . She knew that, by law of Emberhard, this was punishment, but she had been framed. The Emberhard government didn’t take kindly to stealing, as much as they themselves stole the soul and spirit of the people.

(Not a bad beginning, though I personally feel like "they themselves stole the soul and spirit of the people" is a touch heavy handed. The beating already shows their heartlessness plenty. As for line edits, cut "back" since that is usually where people are whipped.)

Although she stood alone, Rebecca Lancedaughter truly believed in Eberheardt. She couldn’t believe that this cold, grey land had no savior and no true, good, identity. Even her mother, Cilia, who had preached the truth of the earth to Becca since she could distinguish between right and wrong, had been on the verge of giving up hope. From the day she could pronounce “Eberheardt”, Becca had refused to call the land by its official name.

(I got a little lost in this paragraph. The place was just barely named "Emberhard," and then you start talking about "Eberheardt" and I wondered if you changed the spelling but it was the same place. Then when I realized you didn't, I was super confused as to the significance of calling it "Emberhard" versus "Eberheardt." Why such a harsh punishment for a small name variation?

As for line edits, you use "grey" and a few other British grammar things [like "learnt" and having the comma outside the quotation mark]. I'm not sure if you're British, since your profile says you live in New York, but if you are then you get a pass. If not, American standard says, "gray," "learned," and commas within quotation marks.

At the age of ten, Becca had been talking to her friend in the marketplace. An officer had overheard the word “Eberheardt” slip from her mouth. He had dragged her away, leaving her friend standing in the middle of the shops, weeping as she watched. Becca shuddered as she remembered the whipping she had received. Three lashes of the whip. But even with that, her lesson was not learnt.

The next day, Becca had returned to the officer, and proclaimed angrily, “This land is Eberheardt, and you can’t deny that!” She had been struck hard, but her spirit could never be vanquished, and she continued, “You can take me out of Eberheardt, but you can’t take Eberheardt out of-” The sentence went unfinished. Becca had been imprisoned beside murderers and thieves for two days. She had huddled in a corner, but never cried. The morning that she was released, the officer had hung the little girl by her wrists with tight ropes, and gave her another two lashes. Becca still had scars, four years later, as she was beaten once again; thinking back to those two days that had started it all.

(This flashback doesn't irk me too much, but I do wonder if it could be shortened to one paragraph instead of two. And I'd still very much like to know why it's such a bad thing to say "Eberheardt."

The dialogue here seems a bit overdone, and I think the flashback could do without it. In particular, "You can take me out of..." sounded a little cliché to me personally.)

Becca was standing, hands bound, as she received a lashing; twenty strokes. In all her life, she had not stolen so much as a rotten pear from a fruit cart. A stupid girl had run past and shoved the loaf of stale bread into her innocent arms. The shopkeeper had accused her, thinking no different. Most children in Emberhard looked the same from behind; dirty hair; ragged pants or skirts; equally tattered shirts; and grimy, bare feet. And, even when clean; her hair was still dark and short, her skin still lightly tanned and rough.

(This, I'll be honest, was a bit of a let down for me as a reader. She was framed for stealing...bread? After all the talk of her rebellious nature and her obvious dislike for whoever is ruling, I expected her to be framed for taking something with more weight and context.

Line edits, I would change "was standing" to "stood." This is one of my personal ticks—the progessive. Most of the time, these can be changed to the single, stronger verb for more impact.

Becca winced as the soldier hitting her struck her with a particularly sharp blow. Of course, she wouldn’t cry over a couple of strikes of the stick. She straightened herself as the next blow came and went. Becca had been going into this same place for the past four years, getting beaten on an assortment of accusations. She had been beaten by this same soldier; he knew all of her weak spots, and showed no mercy. Nineteen, twenty, she thought before turning around to get unchained. As she did, Becca felt a sharp, stinging pain on her cheek as the officer tried to land her some extra blows. She just turned around, obediently. It would do no good to try to stop him; he would just call her stupid and claim she had counted wrong. Becca felt the stick strike her another two times before the officer walked up, key in hand, and unlocked her chains.

(This last paragraph is a little long for my tastes, and I would personally make it two. But that is entirely up to you, since it's really more of a preference.

I'm not sure we need this short flashback to her being here several times—not with the longer flashback as well. In fact, you could probably cut the first and keep this, or keep the first and cut this. We have a clear understanding that she's been through this plenty of times.

Line edits: change to "the soldier struck her," since it's obvious the one hitting her is...the one who would strike her.

There's a bit of over staging in this paragraph, such as "turning around to get unchained." This could easily be "to get unchained." You also have her turning around again a couple sentences after. Then "to try to stop" might be better as "to fight." Then there's the soldier both calling her stupid and claiming she lied—pick one. Also, he could just unlock her without the walking, key in hand. Over staging is a very common issue in drafts. We as writers envision every look, glance, turn, step. The reader doesn't need all these directions; sometimes they even become confusing.)

Overall, I'm interested in this story, and I want to know more. Not a bad thing at all! The writing might be a touch overwritten in places, but nothing that can't be mended. The style, which I think works for this kind of story, might lend a little to overwriting, but it's not bothering me so far.

Becca seems like a very interesting and strong character, and her world is definitely intriguing. I think there's room to solidify the world a little more, and I mentioned my concerns and questions above. Not that you have to go off into an infodump tangent—just a little clarification is in order.

Off to a great start, Riv! Hope this helps!


  1. Great crit. I have to admit, I need to work a bit harder when it comes to giving really specific examples, so it's cool to see a good example of this.

    I agree what you said about the style. I guess it might be a little overwritten, but that seems to work for the story, which feels more epic to me.

  2. This is a bit of a difficult beginning to follow. Getting caught up in the plot always takes some time, and it's a bit confusing to have the eberheardt vs emberheart topic (you could clarify what the difference means) and the one or two flashbacks, and the bread stealing, plus the "now" which seems to be the fact that she's busy being whipped. I think if you focus on one or two of these, and then talk about the other stuff later you could have a stronger beginning.

    I see how the topics are all kind of intertwined, evil government/mean soldiers, obviously the people are being oppressed more that in spirit because they have to resort to stealing bread.

    Also, in the first paragraph she's being struck by a whip and in the last by a stick, is this the same experience? I think the leading and ending paragraphs being the same situation, with her having time to think about stuff while she's in the middle of this "session" can be an effective method, but there may be a couple too many topics in-between, at least for a beginning of a book where we are trying to figure out how the world is.

    But seriously, this is already sounding quite interesting and I would want to keep reading.

  3. Great crit again Natalie. This is an interesting premise, and with some polishing would be an eyecatching excerpt.

    This is so great of you to do, especially with how busy you are. I'm sure the recipients are grateful! :)

  4. Good job to both Natalie and Rivkie. I honestly have nothing to add. I think Natalie and Nick have both made excellent comments. Good luck!

  5. In addition to what Natalie said, here's my main thought:

    There's a lot of beating and remembering in this passage. Unnecessarily so. I think this whole section could be shortened quite a bit.

    It seems to me, then, that there are 2 ways to focus this intro:

    Either all we need to know is that she's strong/proud/defiant, and she's being whipped for a crime she didn't commit... OR you could focus on introducing us (via this character) to Emberhard/Eberheardt, and you could explain more about the world's conflict (evidenced by the names). In 500 words, I think you could have told us a lot more than you did.

    That said, the prose is smooth and easy to follow, and I AM intrigued by this world and this girl, so you've done a good job there. Who doesn't like strong, defiant, noble-hearted girls, eh? :)

  6. I agree about the overwriting. I wonder if there isn't a way to bring out the whipping in that first paragraph. Make it sting a little more for the reader. Honestly, I almost missed it with the talk of the land and such.

    But I am with everyone. Curious to see what happens. :) Good job!

  7. Thanks for the crit!
    One of my really irritating habits is to get confusd between American and British English. I sometimes alternate between the two.
    The thing is that this isn't how the book starts. It has a prologue, but the prologue focuses around a different character; a child's bedtime story of a prince of a land called Eberheardt watching his country be destroyed. I didn't put it in because it has nothing to do with the main plot. (You can add this little tid-bit to you're post if you'd like)
    That's in answer to your "Eberheardt" vs "Emberhard" question.
    I completely agree about over-staging. I often do it, as awful as I know it is. A cross between impressing my word count and getting it across. I totally get what you're saying though, and I think you're spot-on about the whole thing with writers visualizing it all.

    In response to Nick: I changed it from whipping to caning at one point, but, because of lack of knowledge, I moved back to whipping. I guess I missed that part. Thanks for pointing it out.

    Thanks Natalie, and thanks to everyone who commented :) I'll definitely think about this when I do another edit.
    And Natalie: Thanks. My name's Hebrew. ;)