Critique Group – Rain or Shine

Rafiki-Simba-(The_Lion_King)

It’s time to critique again. Let’s not be too much like Rafiki and hit anyone over the head, though sometimes pain from critiques do help us remember how to avoid mistakes. Be nice. 🙂

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Rain or Shine – by Elise

My bare toes squish through the mud, delightfully wet and cold. My tattered skirt clings to my legs, but I don’t care. Hours of work under the blazing sun made this walk in rain a beautiful end to my day. Deggo waves as I pass him. I smile back. My conscious pricks the back of my mind at the smile, but I chose to ignore it.

I pause just outside the door of the baker’s crumbling hut. I finger the coin in my skirt pocket. Deanna needs to eat, I remind myself and step inside.

The warm smell of rice bread flows through the air, making my belly grumble. I stuff a first to my stomach. No time for that now.

“The usual?” Dren asks.

I nod, reluctantly handing him the coin.

“They don’t pay you enough,” Dren mumbles. His brow creases as he wraps up my small loaf of rice bread. “Can I—”

“No!” I shake my head vigorously. “We both know you can’t afford to give me donations.”

Dren shrugs. “We’re all concerned about you and Deanna.” His brow creases again.

I smile thoughtfully. “We’ll get by.” He hands me the loaf. I gently take it and bow slightly at the waist as I do so. “Much thanks to you, Dren. May your days be full of rain.”

“And yours.” Drew replies, a smile finally tracing lines across his weathered face.

I hurry out of the shop and down the street, clutching my bread to my chest. There haven’t been any raids recently, but I don’t want to take any chances. I slow down only when I reach the woven mat in front of our clay hut—more like a hole in the hill. I step through the entrance opening quickly, surprised Deanna hasn’t come out to greet me yet.

A tall figure steps in my path. “Detta!” I try to look around her. “What’s wrong?”

“Hush.” The medicine woman says, taking me gently by the arm.

“Deanna!” I shout, seeing my sister lying on her sleeping mat, eyes closed and as pale as is possible for her rich brown skin. I rush over and kneel down, dropping the bread to take her hands in mine. “Oh, Deanna, what’s wrong?” I turn to Detta. “Help?”

Detta shakes her head, kneeling beside me. “I’m sorry, Dari.” She slips her rough, old hands around ours. “Deanna has the fever.”

“No…” I whisper. Not Deanna! I need her. I can’t let my sister go, too. Not after Domma and Degno last month. “No.” I shake my head. “There must be something we can do.” The rice bread catches my eye. If only I hadn’t wasted the day’s earnings on a little bit of food! I’d at least have money for medicine.

“I’m sorry, Dari.” Detta pulls her hands away.

“But she was fine this morning!” I feel anger beginning to boil inside me. It’s not fair! I can’t lose her. Deanna’s all the family I have left.

I feel something cold touch my skin. “There may yet be some time,” Detta peels my fingers away from Deanna’s limp hand and presses a coin into my palm. I groan. I can’t take Detta’s charity! This whole village is too poor for such things.

“Detta…” I stare at the coin. It could save Deanna’s life. “I’ll make it up to you, I promise.” I stand.

Detta grabs my hand. “Dari, be careful and swift. Deanna’s case came on more quickly than most.”

I nod. I glance once more at the sleeping form of my sister before leaving my home and jogging back out into the rain. My grey sweater falls off my left shoulder, making it harder to run. Now the droplets streaming down seem to sting me with every step I take. Faster. You can’t lose Deanna. I retrace my steps, running back along the road to Sari District. Thunder rumbles in the distance. The rain lessens the farther I go. My muscles burn, unwilling to stretch after an already grueling day. The wet skirt clutches my legs. My breathing is becoming labored. I can’t stop. Deanna’s life depends on my speed.

When I reach the northern gates of the District, I skid to a halt, pushing up my right sleeve. I hold my forearm under the scanner. A beep sounds from somewhere within the gate mechanism and the gate opens slightly. I squeeze through the opening, beginning to run again as soon as I’m on the other side. My muddy feet pound on marble streets, passing by gilded doors and white washed walls. The sun breaks through the clouds, the last of the rain now disappearing into mist.

I turned down a side street and follow it into the Plaza. I rush across the square to a door marked with a purple heart, barely slowing down as I rush inside. A wave of fresh, cool air blasts my face as the door slams behind me. I march up to the counter, and seeing no one else around, bang my fist on the little bell perched on the edge.

I hear a grunt from the door behind the counter. A stout man with thick brows and stubby chin hair enters. He harrumphs.

“We’re closed, girl.”

“Please, sir, you’ve got to help.” I bend at the waist, letting myself fall a little lower than usual. “Your servant’s sister is ill with the fever.”

The man squints at me. “Fever, eh?”

“Please, sir—“

“I heard you the first time!” The man shuffles closer to the counter. “Do you have money?”

I nod, opening my palm. He flicks the coin from my hand onto the countertop with a sniff, revealing an imprint of the King’s head on my palm.

“That’s all?”

“Yes sir.” I grimace at the thought that it’s not even mine to spend.

“Why do you rats keep getting the fever?” The man mumbles, turning around and shuffling through the door. I bounce on my toes. The nagging thoughts of the setting sun and quickly disappearing time make creases in my brow. I bounce faster.

 
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4 replies

  1. Elise,

    You have a good aptitude for expressing passion and compassion. That will take you far.

    Critiquing your piece was a difficult task for me. I very much dislike present-tense narrative, so I winced at it throughout the story. It always feels unnatural to me, as I explained in this post – http://theauthorschair.com/2015/02/11/writing-tips-why-i-avoid-writing-in-present-tense/

    In any case, here goes:

    The opening paragraph needs a better hook. You show us a girl who is walking in the rain, which doesn’t grab me. Her goal of getting food for Deanna is an afterthought, not a mission. I suggest you begin with the urgency that your focal character has to get food, and the rain becomes an obstacle.

    Use “conscience” instead of “conscious,” and you switched to past tense for the final phrase, “I chose to ignore it.” I think you should give Deggo one more visual characteristic so readers can see him better.

    Next: “No time for that now.”

    Time for what? Eating bread? I didn’t understand this.

    I think you should give Dren a couple of physical characteristics earlier on. He is rather invisible in this scene until you mention a weathered face.

    Next: I smile thoughtfully.

    I don’t know what smiling thoughtfully means. What is a thoughtful smile?

    Next: A tall figure steps in my path. “Detta!” I try to look around her. “What’s wrong?”

    With the first reading, I thought the tall figure said “Detta!” Also, why does the POV character call her a tall figure when she knows this is the medicine woman? Maybe you should do something like the following to show that she doesn’t see her face at first:


    A tall figure steps in my path. I look up at her face (add a single characteristic of her face)—Detta, the medicine woman. “Detta? Is something wrong?”

    “Hush, Dari,” Detta says, taking me gently by the arm. (This is a good place to reveal your POV character’s name earlier. I would like to know it even earlier, if you can come up with a way for Dren to say it.)


    Next:


    “Deanna!” I shout, seeing my sister lying on her sleeping mat, eyes closed and as pale as is possible for her rich brown skin. I rush over and kneel down, dropping the bread to take her hands in mine. “Oh, Deanna, what’s wrong?” I turn to Detta. “Help?”


    You showed your POV character’s reactive shout before reporting what she saw. This is out of order. You need to give readers the reason for her reaction before the reaction. Otherwise, you lose intimacy as you temporarily blind readers to what she sees. Also, you can delete “down.”

    After the next paragraph, I began wondering why everyone’s name begins with a D.

    Next: I feel anger beginning to boil inside me.

    To make it more intimate, consider “Anger boils inside.”

    Next: I feel something cold touch my skin.

    Same issue with intimacy. Consider “Something cold touches my skin.”

    Did you read the common mistakes to avoid post? Item #3 discussed this. Here is the link – http://theauthorschair.com/2015/04/10/critique-group-avoidance-list-what-to-look-for-before-you-send/

    Next: “There may yet be some time,” Detta peels my fingers away from Deanna’s limp hand and presses a coin into my palm. I groan. I can’t take Detta’s charity! This whole village is too poor for such things.

    You need a period instead of a comma after “time.” Also, this revelation of poverty gives you a chance to show the interior of the hut more clearly. Dari might notice a couple of images of her own poverty at this point.

    Next: My grey sweater falls off my left shoulder, making it harder to run.

    You didn’t mention the sweater earlier. Since she was walking in the rain, it seems that it would be an issue as it grew heavy. Also, it seems odd to me that she would take notice of its color at this point.

    Next: “after an already grueling day.”

    In the opening, I wondered what Dari’s labors were, but you chose not to reveal them. This might be a good place to do so since she is thinking about how her work wearied her muscles.

    Next: A beep sounds from somewhere within the gate mechanism and the gate opens slightly.

    You need a comma after mechanism. This is a compound sentence.

    Next: I squeeze through the opening, beginning to run again as soon as I’m on the other side.

    Getting to the other side comes before beginning to run, so you need to reverse the order. This is mentioned in #1 in the mistakes to avoid list.

    Next: My muddy feet pound on marble streets, passing by gilded doors and white washed walls.

    Bare feet usually slap instead of pound. Are they bare? The way you have written this, you are saying that her feet are passing by the doors and walls. Maybe this – As my muddy feet slap the marble streets, I pass by gilded doors and whitewashed walls. (whitewash is one word).

    Next: I turned down a side street and follow it into the Plaza.

    You have another tense shift. “Turned” is past tense.

    Next: I rush across the square to a door marked with a purple heart, barely slowing down as I rush inside. A wave of fresh, cool air blasts my face as the door slams behind me.

    You have two consecutive sentences with an ending “as” phrase. Also, does the slamming of the door create the breeze? If so, report that first.

    Next: I hear a grunt from the door behind the counter.

    No need for “I hear.” Just report the sound.

    Next: I bend at the waist, letting myself fall a little lower than usual.

    This confused me the first two times I read it. She didn’t fall. Her upper body dipped lower.

    Next: I grimace at the thought that it’s not even mine to spend.

    Her grimace is caused by the thought. Reverse the order.

    Next: The nagging thoughts of the setting sun and quickly disappearing time make creases in my brow.

    This sentence felt clumsy to me. Thoughts and disappearing time don’t crease a brow. If thoughts bring it about, it is a voluntary movement.

    I would like to see you show more visuals and slow the pace where you can. For example, consider the following ending (it’s in past tense, because … well … it’s better that way):

    I glanced outside. The setting sun gave way to growing twilight, casting the rain-slickened street in gloom. Time was growing short. Every passing second escorted Deanna closer to death. I furrowed my brow and bounced faster. If only he would hurry up!

    That’s all I have. I think this can be a compelling story. Here are my recommendations:

    1. Write it in past tense.
    2. Slow the pace wherever it makes sense.
    3. Provide more visuals.

    Keep up the good work!

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  2. My critique:
    I love the opening! You have some lovely description, and walking in the rain is delightful- I’m glad to meet a character who shares my love for it.
    You also do a nice job introducing a conflict inthe next few paragraphs. Though I don’t know the details of your character’s situation, I can guess, and I immediately feel sympathetic.
    “May your days be full of rain”- another good line. It hints at either worldbuilding or making their relationship more clear. (I’m guessing either rain is considered culturally special or it’s a sort of inside joke between the two, since most people in our world would wish people days full of sunshine.)
    Question: is there a reason all the names start with D? If there is, that’s cool, but if not, I’d suggest renaming some of them to make sure it’s not too confusing.
    Excellent description of her desperate run; I feel like I’m right there with her.
    The mention of the sweater and the scanner caught me off-guard. Up until now, I’d taken this for a non-modern sort of setting, perhaps even a semi-African or Indian one. But the sweater indicates at least semi-modern times, and the scanner makes me think dystopian or sci-fi.
    Overall, good work; I really enjoyed reading your excerpt!

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  3. Very compelling story so far. It left me wanting to read more. Above critiques are well thought out and inclusive, so all that i want to mention is that there are recurrent groups if excessive adverb use. If you can go back and find more descriptive verbs i believe the story will be even more compelling.

    The main offenders are slightly, gently and quickly.

    Keep up the story telling. 🙂

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  4. I like the drive to take care of her sister. In the paragraph where you talk about the rice bread you say Dari stuck a “first” in her stomach. I think you mean “fist.” Also maybe you could reveal Dari’s name in the bread shop when Drew asks about the usual order. That way we know her name as soon as possible. The showing your protagonist was a girl in the first couple sentence was natural. I was also thrown off by the scanner. Maybe as she’s walking back to the village she can notice things that help show the era you have the story in. I like that you show what color the girls (and maybe community) when Dari notices her sisters unusual color.

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