Critique Group – The Unchosen One and A Secret Revealed

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Another week, another critique, well, two critiques. Let’s get it rolling!

Don’t forget the critiquing guidelines. All you have to do is post a comment about the submissions below. Don’t feel like you need to critique both or the whole piece of either one. Even a short comment on one aspect can be helpful. When you critique, be sure to mention which piece you’re critiquing.

This post will stay active indefinitely, so you can come back and add comments at any time. If you are one of the writers who is being critiqued, you should subscribe to this post so you can be notified when any comments are added.

Submission #1 – The Unchosen One by Nathan

I wake up to a loud beeping.  I open my eyes and slap my alarm clock as my eyes turn to the window.  As soon as I do, a blur goes by, too fast to identify other than it was human.  I quickly get up and cross my spotless white room to the window and try to get a better view.  I spot the person flying towards the Square, but there is no black hair flowing in the wind, and it looks like a man, so it isn’t Isabel.  Of course it isn’t Isabel, they will be here in about an hour, and she can’t fly that well yet.  Maybe I will get to fly one day too, but I doubt it.  I look outside again and I can see the city of Plateia; 133 pure white buildings of varying size, and all of them are one or two stories. All except for the Square at the center of the city, which has four stories.

It’s 7:30 in the morning, my parents are already at work, and I am an only child, so I still have about an hour to myself until I need to start walking to school.  I leave the window and cross the room again to make my bed, which is against the whole length of one wall, under the other window that only shows miles and miles of grass.  I head to my closet in the opposite corner of the room to grab some clean clothes for the day, but it’s empty.  Then I remember that I keep all of my clothes in the dresser, which is next to my bed so it can double as a night stand.  I grab some clothes, a t-shirt and jeans, get dressed, and then head to the doorway that opens up to a staircase.

The stairs lead to the main hallway; directly across from me is the front door, to my left is the kitchen, on my right is the door to my parents room, and at the end of the hall on the right is the living room.  I go into the kitchen and grab a bowl, a spoon, milk, and some cereal.  I pour myself a bowl of the normal, plain, boring, cereal.  It doesn’t taste good, but it isn’t bad, and since everyone else in the city eats it, why shouldn’t I?  After finishing my breakfast,  I put my dishes in the sink and head back upstairs to finish getting ready for school.  By the time I brush my teeth and comb my hair, it is already 8:00.  I return downstairs and lay down on the couch in the living room.  Something is picking at my brain; I feel like I am forgetting something, but I have my school I.D. in the pocket of my jeans, and that is all that I need to take to school.  I don’t really like school, not many of the students do, but I do get to hang out with my three favorite people in the city for the whole day, and that isn’t bad.

I look at the analog clock on the wall and it reads December 31st 3479.  And that’s when I remember what I had forgotten.  Today’s the Ceremony!  I’m getting my Present today!  I sit up on the couch and glance at the clock hanging on the wall, it’s 8:20, so there should be a knock on the door anytime.  As if summoned by my thought, I hear the sound of six fists banging randomly on the front door, they are excited, of course.  I quickly get up, take the few steps from the couch to the door, and swing the door open.  Before me stand my three favorite people in the whole city: Julianna, Isabel, and Luke.  Luke is a small, scrawny boy, with short blonde hair and bright blue eyes.  Isabel and Julianna look pretty similar, except for the fact that Julianna has brown hair and Isabel has black hair, but other than that they are pretty much the same; their hair is long, and they both have green eyes.  All of them are wearing jeans and a solid color t-shirt, as is everyone in Plateia.  I imagine what they are looking at; me standing in the doorway, a regular sized boy with green eyes, very short brown hair, and nothing unique about him.

Submission #2 – A Secret Revealed by Jessica

It was just an ordinary day for the Star family. That is, until IT happened. They were just sitting at the table playing board games like they do every weekend when suddenly, CRASH! Someone or something had broken the window. Mr. and Mrs. Star seemed to know exactly what was happening. They jump up, and begin to approach the source of the noise, but not before telling the kids to hide. The twins Amy and Michael, run as fast as they possibly can to the place their parents always said to hide in an emergency.

They stayed there all night. The next morning the twins noticed it was eerily quiet. They decided that must mean it is safe for them now, so they come out of hiding. What they find shocks them. The evil men were certainly gone, but they left behind a bloody mess of bodies. In the midst of the pile, the twins spotted their parents! Amy turned away and hid her face in Michael’s arms. She did not want to believe their parents were dead. Michael held her there for a few moments before pulling her away.

“Sis, we need to contact the police about this immediately!” he exclaims.

BRIIIING, BRIIIING, BRIIIING. It seemed to them like the phone was going to ring forever, when finally the twins heard a voice on the other end. “Hello, what is the emergency?” says a woman’s voice.

“Hello. Is this the police? My name’s Michael and I’m here with my sister Amy. Our parents…they were killed! We need someone to come over immediately!” Michael spits out his words in a panic.

“Slow down kid. I can barely understand you. Can you explain your situation to me one more time? And please tell me where you are?”

“Yes ma’am. Sorry.” Michael takes a deep breath and calmly repeats himself. “Our address is 30 Baker Street, Churchville, NY 14428

“Yes ma’am. I live on 34th street. My house is the blue one with the green trim. Our house number is 1823. Please come quickly. Bad men came. We are afraid they might come back.”

“Thank you. I will send some men over immediately. Stay put.”

“Yes ma’am. We understand.”

After the woman hangs up, Amy begins to cry again. “Everything will be okay I promise, Michael assures Amy.

They were worried about the murderers coming back, so they decided to wait for the police in their bedroom at the back of the house. They did didn’t have to wait there long because the police arrived in record time. After appraising the situation, they approach the twins.

“We are sorry about your parents’ death. We will do everything we can to find out who killed them and put that person behind bars. We know it’s sudden, but you can’t stay here all by yourselves. We found a relative of yours from Pennsylvania, Ms. Marianne Trent, and we going to take you to live with her in a few days.”

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14 replies

  1. Submission #1 – The Unchosen One

    Naythan, you do a good job with delving into your point-of-view character’s mind. Readers will enjoy learning more about him.

    I always have a hard time reading present-tense stories. To me, it is not natural story-telling. Nobody tells their own story while it is occurring. It just doesn’t happen. Yet, I will end my rant about that topic and move on. 🙂

    “I wake up to a loud beeping.”

    I assume the beeping occurs first and then the waking up, so you should put them in the right order. “A loud beeping wakes me up.” Or something like that.

    “I open my eyes and slap my alarm clock as my eyes turn to the window.”

    Two uses of “eyes.” As I slap my alarm clock, I open my eyes and focus on the window.”

    “As soon as I do, a blur goes by, too fast to identify other than it was human.”

    The phrased “as soon as I do” is unnecessary. I would delete it. A blur indicates speed that makes and object unidentifiable, so you don’t need all of that. “A blur goes by, humanlike.”

    “I quickly get up and cross my spotless white room to the window and try to get a better view.”

    I would replace “quickly get up” with a more vivid verb in order to avoid the adverb. “I leap out of bed …” Also, I wouldn’t mention the spotless white room, because this is the character’s ordinary world. I don’t think he would notice the cleanliness or the color if it was normal.

    “I spot the person flying towards the Square, but there is no black hair flowing in the wind, and it looks like a man, so it isn’t Isabel. Of course it isn’t Isabel, they will be here in about an hour, and she can’t fly that well yet.”

    The order of thoughts here confused me. Why was he looking for black hair flowing? Then I realized he wanted to see if it was Isabel. I think the Isabel though would occur first. Also, I didn’t understand the use of “they” when thinking about a single person, Isabel.

    A more natural order would go something like this:

    “I spot the person flying towards the Square. Could it be Isabel? No, black hair would be flowing behind her, and this person looked like a man. Besides, Isabel is supposed to be here in about an hour, and she can’t fly that well yet.”

    “Maybe I will get to fly one day too, but I doubt it.”

    With an introspective thought like this, I like to start it with an intimate action that parallels the mood of the thought.

    I lower my gaze to the floor. Maybe I will get to fly one day too, but I doubt it.”

    “I look outside again and I can see the city of Plateia; 133 pure white buildings of varying size, and all of them are one or two stories. All except for the Square at the center of the city, which has four stories.”

    What is his motivation for looking outside again? I didn’t see a reason for it. Also, why would he describe the city at this point? Since this is his ordinary world, it seems odd that he would take such detailed note of what he probably sees every day.

    “It’s 7:30 in the morning, my parents are already at work, and I am an only child, so I still have about an hour to myself until I need to start walking to school.”

    This feels like self-narration rather than real-time thought process. He wouldn’t be reciting things that he already knows. He can glance at the clock to gauge the time, but I think you should just put him through the motions of his morning. Readers will see that he is alone. Maybe he will find a note from his father or mother, which will let readers know that he has parents who are gone already.

    “I leave the window and cross the room again to make my bed, which is against the whole length of one wall, under the other window that only shows miles and miles of grass. I head to my closet in the opposite corner of the room to grab some clean clothes for the day, but it’s empty. Then I remember that I keep all of my clothes in the dresser, which is next to my bed so it can double as a night stand. I grab some clothes, a t-shirt and jeans, get dressed, and then head to the doorway that opens up to a staircase. The stairs lead to the main hallway; directly across from me is the front door, to my left is the kitchen, on my right is the door to my parents room, and at the end of the hall on the right is the living room.”

    This is what is called stage direction. You should not detail the position of the furniture and passages. It isn’t important, and it is tedious. I also had a hard time believing that he didn’t know that he couldn’t get clothes from the closet. Why would he even look in his closet? He knows his clothes aren’t there.

    “I go into the kitchen and grab a bowl, a spoon, milk, and some cereal. I pour myself a bowl of the normal, plain, boring, cereal. It doesn’t taste good, but it isn’t bad, and since everyone else in the city eats it, why shouldn’t I? After finishing my breakfast, I put my dishes in the sink and head back upstairs to finish getting ready for school. By the time I brush my teeth and comb my hair, it is already 8:00. I return downstairs and lay down on the couch in the living room.”

    At this point, I am wondering why I am reading this story. Nothing beyond the mundane is happening. Why should I care about these actions?

    You need to give your character a goal immediately, something he knows he must do. It doesn’t have to be a big goal, but something more than just the day-to-day grind. Readers want to follow a line of action that leads to something, not a character’s tedious duties of the morning.

    I think you should introduce the Ceremony concept immediately and have the character go about preparing for it from the start.

    “Before me stand my three favorite people in the whole city: Julianna, Isabel, and Luke. Luke is a small, scrawny boy, with short blonde hair and bright blue eyes. Isabel and Julianna look pretty similar, except for the fact that Julianna has brown hair and Isabel has black hair, but other than that they are pretty much the same; their hair is long, and they both have green eyes. All of them are wearing jeans and a solid color t-shirt, as is everyone in Plateia. I imagine what they are looking at; me standing in the doorway, a regular sized boy with green eyes, very short brown hair, and nothing unique about him.”

    If these are his three favorite people in the whole city, he must know them quite well. He wouldn’t be staring at them and mentally going over their physical features.

    Also these descriptions harm the pacing. He swings the door open, and then it seems that he is staring at them for several seconds. Are his guests wondering why he doesn’t say hello? The pace of the reading should match the pace of the action, so these descriptions create too big of an action gap.

    Finally, this story feels Divergent-like. It’s the future, it’s dystopian, and a big day is at hand. I think you should try to find a less derivative idea.

    I hope that’s not too harsh. I don’t mean it to be. Keep writing. 🙂

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  2. Submission #2 – A Secret Revealed

    Jessica, your story begins with a lot of excitement and danger. That will attract your readers’ attention and make them want to continue reading.

    Now to the negatives.

    I think you should take some time to develop the characters and the setting before the “It” happens. Let us get to know the family for a little while, at least a few paragraphs. Without that introduction, we can’t become emotionally attached to the characters. Without that attachment, we won’t care what happens to them.

    Be careful to keep your verb tenses consistent. You began with past tense (It was), then changed to present tense (They jump up, and begin to approach), then back to past tense (They stayed there all night.) Choose which verb tense you want to use and stick with it.

    I think you should choose one of the twins, let’s say Amy, and tell the story through her eyes. Show us what crashes through the window. Show us what she sees as she runs for shelter. Let us know how she feels as she and Michael are huddling, scared, worried. Where are our parents? Are they all right?

    As it is, I think you are rushing things, and nothing really grabs hold of the readers because we can’t really see what’s going on or feel the tension in the characters.

    In other words, show us the story. Don’t just tell it. Let the details come to light as Amy experiences them.

    For example:


    Amy rolled the dice. “Seven!” She moved her Monopoly piece with a series of loud taps to the “Go” square. “Whew! I got past Boardwalk! Landing there would have bankrupted me.”

    Michael shook his head. “Maybe next time around.”

    Amy smiled. Michael was always a good sport. He made Saturdays fun, even when he was losing.

    “Your turn,” Amy said to Mom as she handed over the dice.


    I am not saying you should write it this way. I am just providing an example of how to provide a view of the family members. The paragraph that starts with “Amy smiled” and her thoughts about her brother let us know that we are seeing things through Amy’s perspective.

    I think you should rewrite your story with this technique. Show something crashing through the window, maybe some shards falling on Amy and the game board. Have one of the parent run to the window and look outside. Let us see the action moment by moment.

    I hope that helps.

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  3. Thoughts on Submission #1:

    I like the concept a lot of following a completely “normal” character who feels like he should be special, but isn’t. From the premise, I’m slightly worried that it could become cliched, with the “boring” protagonist discovering that he’s actually really special, something that has been made really common by stories like Divergent or The Maze Runner, but there are instances like The Lego Movie where it’s been done well, so I’m on board with that part and curious to see what happens next.

    The following sentences/phrases sounded too on-the-nose to me:
    “…and I am an only child…”
    “Then I remember that I keep all of my clothes in the dresser, which is next to my bed so it can double as a night stand.” (Unless he just moved into this house, I’m really confused about why he forgot where his clothes were.)
    “I pour myself a bowl of the normal, plain, boring, cereal.” (I get what you’re trying to do here by creating a common theme, which is good, but using three adjectives in a row makes it too obvious.)
    “…since everyone else in the city eats it, why shouldn’t I?”
    “I look at the analog clock on the wall and it reads December 31st 3479” (I get that you need to indicate the date somehow, but this seemed to be too directly pointed at the reader instead of naturally flowing from the rest of the excerpt.)
    “I imagine what they are looking at; me standing in the doorway, a regular sized boy with green eyes, very short brown hair, and nothing unique about him.”

    Overall, I like the premise and theme you’re beginning to build, but I think you’re trying a bit too hard to make sure that the reader sees the theme right now. Toning down some of the references will help a lot. Since this is only the first couple pages of the book, you have plenty of time to slowly build up a really good theme into your story. If I picked up this book in a bookstore, I would still keep reading beyond this point, so, in that aspect, I think it’s working pretty well as an intro; it just needs some more polishing. Keep it up!

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  4. Jessica, I like how your story begins with action and drama, which really drew me in.
    However, there was one part of the dialogue that confused me though:

    “Yes ma’am. Sorry.” Michael takes a deep breath and calmly repeats himself. “Our address is 30 Baker Street, Churchville, NY 14428

    “Yes ma’am. I live on 34th street. My house is the blue one with the green trim. Our house number is 1823. Please come quickly. Bad men came. We are afraid they might come back.”

    At first I couldn’t tell who was speaking in the second paragraph because of the separation. It seems to be Michael speaking to the woman on the phone, but why didn’t we hear her response since we hear what she says before and after this piece of dialogue.
    Also, the addresses “30 Baker Street” & “34th street … 1823” were confusing. Do they have two addresses for where they live? I’m a little lost.

    One last question: how did the police, who were sent over immediately, know that Amy and Michael have a relative in Pennsylvania? Wouldn’t they say something like, “It isn’t safe for you to stay here. You will be relocated to a safe place in a few days,” or something like that. But I don’t think the police would have been informed of a relative’s location until after they had assessed the situation at the house.

    Other than that, keep up the good work. I’m curious to learn what happened to their parents and what’s going to happen to them. 🙂

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  5. Submission #2

    I like the action in the beginning, though I do agree with Mr. Davis on a lot of piece; including the inconsistencies with the tenses.

    A suggestion with the phone call to the police:

    “It seemed to them like the phone was going to ring forever, when finally the twins heard a voice on the other end.”

    If you did decide to write the piece in the point of view with one of the twins, it would make more sense for that twin to think that the phone seemed to ring forever.

    Something like this maybe?
    “Michael fidgeted with anxiety. Impatient. The phone seemed to ring forever before someone finally answered.”

    I really liked Amy and Michael right away though. Good job, and keep writing!

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  6. The Unchosen One:
    The title really intrigued me and it seems like with it being in a science fiction world it could be an interesting story, but the beginning starting when he’s waking up and going about a pretty normal day is a bit cliche and the beginning needs to pull in the reader quickly. I think you could start closer to when he gets his Present, and that could hook in the reader more. Your craft needs a little work. It’s a bit choppy and it has a good deal of telling. But if you work hard you can improve. 🙂 You can do it! I commend you for putting some of your work up for critique. That’s very brave of you, Nathan. With some work this could be a neat story. 🙂 If you want more specific critique, feel free to ask if you need some expansion on anything I’ve said.

    A Secret Revealed:
    This is definitely very action-packed and it seems like an intriguing opening, but it comes a little too soon. You need to take some time for us to get to know the characters before you have their parents murdered or we don’t really care about the characters’ woes. You’re writing in omniscient which is a bit of a distant point of view, but you still need to have us feel what the characters are feeling and I didn’t get that. You also have a good deal of telling and a lot of vague spots. I can’t really tell much about where these people are or who they are. But the twins being the main characters is interesting, and I want know who killed the parents. With some honing this could be a good story. 🙂 If you have any questions about what I’ve said, feel free to ask. It’s scary getting critique. I’ve being getting it for six years and it still makes me nervous, but this is how we become better writings. Good luck with your story!

    Stori Tori’s Blog

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  7. Submission 1-
    I think you use too many descriptive words and commas. Perhaps use more vivid adjectives/adverbs.

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  8. The Unchosen One

    I like the title, and other than the ceremony and uniform, I don’t think it sounds that much like Divergent. (I haven’t read much dystopian with flying people.)
    I don’t think you need to throw out the ceremony or uniform, but perhaps mention enough about how it’s different from other dystopian ideas that people know it’s not similar.
    I think everyone else gave a decent critique, so I don’t have anything to add.

    A Secret Revealed

    It sounds quite interesting, and I am wondering why the parents were ready for something so you made an unanswered question to keep me reading. Good setup.
    Now for some critique.

    “They jump up, and begin to approach the source of the noise, but not before telling the kids to hide.”

    Here, you should show it.

    “Get to the hiding place.” Mom said.
    Mom and Dad approached the source of the noise, their footsteps silent.

    From what I’m seeing, you’re doing a brief overview of what happened, rather than showing what’s happening. This brief overview is okay if you’re in a boring spot, such as eating dinner where nothing happens. In a case like that, the reader would be annoyed if they had a detailed description of the character shoveling boiled beans into their mouth. However, this brief overview is not something you want to do in an action packed scene where readers want to know all the juicy details.

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  9. I believe both of these stories were pretty good. I did like how the first one took place in the future, and how the year was mentioned. I did notice it had a bit of the feel of the beginning of The Giver.

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  10. With the first one, I was intrigued by the mention of flying as something the character and his friends couldn’t do yet, but was presumably common. I’d probably keep reading on that alone, though it does need some smoothing up as others have already mentioned.
    As for the second one, I’m going to make a different suggestion. Depending on what the focus of the story is, it might be better to have the parents’ death occur before the story opens. That way, the readers can come to see it through the characters’ eyes. At the current pace, it occurs too early for me to care about anyone in the story.

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  11. For Nathan, why would he have forgotten that he keeps his clothes in the dresser? If that’s where they’ve always been kept, why would he have gone to the closet? Maybe I’m missing something, but unless you later explain that he moved or redecorated recently, you might want to fix that. It’s a great story though, and you seem like a good writer!

    For Jessica, in the part where Michael is talking on the phone with the police, you sometimes mention what the policeman/woman says, and other times, you don’t. It just confused me a little, and I had to concentrate to fully understand what was going on. Other than that, it seems like a great plot!

    Both of you, keep writing! I want to be able to order those books someday and find out what happens!

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  12. Just to reiterate: I’m making comments as I read and not reading any of the other comments before reading for myself.

    Next, and forgive me if Bryan’s already said so: Having done a similar online critique group before, keep in mind I’m not seeing the whole thing. If I pose a question and you know I’ll get the answer a few chapters in, don’t worry about it. That was always the hard part for me, remembering nobody else could see the whole thing. (By contrast, if I needed that information in this section, um, yeah, it should be put in.) It was just a thought, because I tended to wind up banging my head on a wall. 0=)

    Last, since it’s a draft, I’m not looking at spelling and such right now, just overall content.

    Okay, now for comments.

    Submission 1: A few typos aside, this is a very nice first person present (I know not everyone likes it, but I really don’t mind it. I should warn you it’s very much a YA tool. ) My biggest thought might be that, for me, this begins a little too far into ‘ordinary.’ The narrator is engaging, and I have a general idea of their age (but not name or gender), but I think you could make it a little more active and it would be much stronger.

    Submission 2:
    I kind of think you should back up, slow down, and show me instead of tell me. I think Bryan covered most of the rest.

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  13. Wow, I am really behind on my feedback for people. Here I am, trying to work on responses a month late. Sorry!

    Feedback for The Unchosen One

    Nathan,

    The first thing that came to mind is your use of first person, present tense. Whenever I come across a story written this way, I stop reading immediately. Some people find it jarring, and in me it causes cognitive issues so distracting that I can’t focus on the story at all.

    Think about it this way:

    Third person, past tense means that someone, possibly an omnipotent author, has written a story about something that already happened.

    First person, past tense means that the viewpoint character is recording a personal memoir of some sort about something that already happened.

    Third person, present tense means that the reader has taken the seat of an invisible, omnipresent observer and is actively watching things unfold. I don’t like this style either, but it at least makes sense because you can conceive a plausible reason for the style. In my earlier writing attempts, I used third person present tense because I was trying to convey a sense of action. I’ve since learned that past tense is active enough if you put some effort into it.

    First person, present tense means that the author, for some incomprehensible reason, is narrating his/her life as it happens.
    Kind of like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gnezI2hOXA (and even then, he’s using past tense)

    One thing that did stand out was that your story is set in 3479, but uses a Gregorian calendar. Bear in mind that in history, our current calendar is only about 450 years old, and calendars tend to evolve with culture. Serious language shifts take place over time as well, and since you’re dealing with 1500 years, there’s bound to be some significant changes in nomenclature and language style. You shouldn’t go too overboard in this, but making something that builds the world will help. Think of the Stardate in the Star Trek series. It hinted that humans had moved beyond the limitations of their homeworld’s day/night and orbit cycle and were thinking in terms of an entire galaxy. This would probably not work for your particular story, given that it has a dystopian vibe, but it’s just a thought.

    I am sorry for not having any more significant feedback, but I find the style too jarring to keep my attention at all. I even dumped an Ursula K. LeGuin novel for the same reason only a few paragraphs in, and I find her other traditional style works to be lovely.

    Feedback for A Secret Revealed

    Jessica,

    You definitely start off with action, but your tendency to move quickly keeps any emotional connection from developing organically.

    Within the space of two paragraphs you introduce a setting, kill off two characters, and then have a rather technical phrase from the survivors. “Sis, we need to contact the police about this immediately!” I’ve dealt with the survivors of violent attacks, and their responses are usually in the form of “expletive, expletive, call the expletive police!” along with lots of incoherent screaming, crying, reddened faces, and snotty noses. Even an unhurt but panicky person is a wreck from their own hormonal system jumping into survival mode and then crashing down.

    My suggestion would be to build the family bond. Show the typical night. Have Mr. Star crack lame jokes while Mrs. Star serves hot cocoa. Or hey, flip the trope and make mom the snarky one and dad the more domestic one who brings in his delicious bacon-wrapped all beef franks for an evening treat before board game night. Show the family love. Then build the tension by having the noise interrupt the game. Show the noise as the bad guys approach. Display the tension in the faces. Maybe dad picks up a fireplace poker, or mom barricades a door with a table. Show some preparation before they make the kids head for the panic room.
    Describe the screams, show the kids’ reactions, then paint the room red with a symphony of blood that shows the reader just how life-altering this attack was. And yes, painting a symphony of blood is a mixed metaphor. Metaphors are a great way to describe the aftermath of violence, because they leave much to the imagination while evoking an emotional response.

    Other than that, watch your tenses. You slipped from past to present a few times, but at least you stuck with third person!

    Good luck to both of you. Keep writing!

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