Critique Group – Broken Cities

Ratatouille-Ego_2-1144x460

We always give honest critiques with plenty of … perspective. 🙂

Don’t forget the critiquing guidelines. All you have to do is post a comment about the submission below. Don’t feel like you have to critique the whole piece. Even a short comment on one aspect can be helpful.

If you want to submit a manuscript for critique, please read the guidelines as well as this list of common mistakes to avoid before submitting.

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.

Broken Cities – by Kate

Marin opened her eyes. The room was still dark but the birds were chirping outside the window, signaling the approaching dawn. She slipped out of bed and tip-toed to the dresser. A small stub of candle lay beside a box of matches. Marin lit the candle, illuminating the room.

“Is it morning?” A soft voice whispered behind her. Marin turned and saw Jaymie sitting up in bed.

Marin nodded. “Almost.”

“Good.” Jaymie rolled off the bed. “I’ll help you.” Marin lifted the the mattress they shared and Jaymie pulled up one of the floor boards to reveal a hole six inches deep. She reached inside and pulled out the precious treasure within. A book. Its leather cover was old and worn, and smudged with dirt. After replacing the floor board, they let the mattress down and sat on it.

“Where should we read today?” Marin asked, careful to keep her voice low so as not to be heard by any possible listener.

“Psalm 121,” Jaymie said without hesitation.

“We read that yesterday and the day before.”

“After last night, we need the encouragement.”

Marin smiled. “Okay.” She undid the metal clasps holding the book shut and turned to Psalms. She began to read aloud, her voice smooth and even. “I will lift my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth…”

Jaymie leaned against Marin and read along silently. “The Lord will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul. The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever.” Marin finished reading. Morning light was starting to filter in through the shutters on the window. They replaced the book in its hiding place and got dressed for the day.

In the front room, Nicole was starting to prepare breakfast. “Good morning, girls!” she greeted them as they entered.

“Good morning, Mrs. Donovan,” they chimed together. Jaymie began setting the table and Marin started fixing lunch for later.

Brain and Tanner came through the back door carrying firewood. The girls greeted them. “Morning, Mr. Donovan. Morning, Tanner.” Tanner staggered as he tried to carry too many logs for his small frame. Jaymie set down her dishes and hurried to help him. Marin smiled as she watched the pair. Jaymie was ever becoming a protective big sister to the young boy.

Everyone bustled about tending to their chores and getting ready for the coming day. Jaymie finished setting the table and then left to wake the two youngest children, Dillon and Adira, and help them get dressed.

A loud knock sounded on the front door. Everyone looked up. Brian cautiously crossed the room to the door. “Who is it?” he asked through the door.

“Caleb,” came the answer. Everyone in the room sighed in relief. Brian opened the door. Caleb stood outside. He nodded to Brian. “Mr. Donovan.”

“Caleb! Come in.” Caleb stepped inside and Brian shut the door behind him. “What brings you here so early?”

“I wanted to make sure all of you were okay. The riots got pretty close last night.”

“We’re fine. The fighting was several blocks away.”

Caleb nodded and looked around the room. “Something smells good.”

Marin smiled and came forward from the kitchen. “Breakfast is just about done. Have you eaten?”

He shook his head, his eyes hopeful.

“Would you like to eat with us?” Brian asked.

“I couldn’t. I don’t want to take your food.”

“We insist.” Brian said.

“Alright.”

Breakfast was a tasteless porridge, but it filled the stomach. Each bowl was filled a little less than normal to provide some for their guest. Not that there was much anyway. It was hard enough to provide food for seven mouths, especially with only three workers in the home.

Although the porridge was bland, Nicole more than made up for it with a special treat. She set down a plate of strawberries in the center of the table. “Strawberries? Where did you find them?” Caleb exclaimed.

“There’s a wild strawberry plant that is growing out back. It just sprouted this spring.”

“Wow. A little gift from God right in your back yard. He is kind.”

They all involuntarily glanced at the front door. It was shut, but you never knew who could be listening.

“I’m sorry.” Caleb said quietly.

“No need to apologize.” Nicole answered. “What you said is true. He is certainly good.”

When breakfast was over everyone chipped in to help clean up and in less than ten minutes the whole house was set to order.

Brian kissed Nicole. “Got to go. Goodbye.” He rushed out the door.

Nicole picked up Adira. “I’d better go too.” She kissed her sons on the head and left, leaving Marin and Caleb to walk Jaymie and the boys to the school.

“Have a good day.” Marin hugged her sister.

“You too.” Jaymie turned and herded the two younger boys toward the building, her fiery red heir blowing in the breeze. Marin and Caleb continued on alone toward the hospital.

“You’re quiet.” Marin said braking the silence. “What’s wrong?”

“Everything. The riots were bad last night.” Caleb sounded more worried than usual. Marin looked up at him.

“They were louder, but it wasn’t…”

“It was bad.” He interrupted. “They were almost on my street. I could hear people…” He trailed off and let out a deep sigh. “I was worried about you last night.” Marin glanced up at him. “And your family,” he added. “I even considered breaking curfew and coming over to make sure you were okay.”

“I’m glad you didn’t! The soldiers shoot first and ask questions later. Anyway, we were fine,” Marin assured him.

“Yeah, but what about next time? It’s not safe to live in the city anymore.”

Marin chose her words carefully. “It’s as safe as anywhere else. Besides it’s not like we have a choice where we live.”

Caleb was quiet for a minute. Finally he spoke. “What if we did?”

 
0


Categories: Critique Group

Tags: , , , ,

13 replies

  1. Kate,
    I enjoy persecution stories that include danger at every turn. I think this can be a good one.

    Marin opened her eyes. The room was still dark but the birds were chirping outside the window, signaling the approaching dawn. She slipped out of bed and tip-toed to the dresser. A small stub of candle lay beside a box of matches. Marin lit the candle, illuminating the room.

    If the room was dark, how did Marin see the dresser, candle, and matches? If the candle is lying on the dresser instead of standing, how did she light it? Did she stand it up? Did she use a match?

    You need a comma after “dark,” because the sentence is compound.

    Next: “Is it morning?” A soft voice whispered behind her. Marin turned and saw Jaymie sitting up in bed.

    “and saw” is a narrator phrase. It is better just to report the visual and enhance it a bit for flavor, like this:
    Marin turned. Jaymie sat up in bed, her eyes bleary.

    Next: Marin lifted the the mattress they shared and Jaymie pulled up one of the floor boards to reveal a hole six inches deep.

    Delete one of the uses of “the.” Also you need a comma after “shared.” This is a compound sentence.

    Next: Its leather cover was old and worn, and smudged with dirt.

    No comma after “worn.” This is not a compound sentence.

    “Where should we read today?” Marin asked, careful to keep her voice low so as not to be heard by any possible listener.

    I would delete everything after “low.” Readers can figure out the rest. There is no other reason to keep one’s voice low.

    Next: In the front room, Nicole was starting to prepare breakfast. “Good morning, girls!” she greeted them as they entered.

    This feels out of order. Since this is Marin’s point of view, she and Jaymie should enter first before you report Nicole’s activities. Also, there is no need for “she greeted,” because her statement is a greeting. Can you show the breakfast making so readers can have a little more to go on?

    I suggest: Marin and Jaymie walked into the kitchen where Nicole stood in front of the stove, a spatula poised over a pair of eggs frying in an iron skillet. She smiled and sang out, “Good morning, girls!”

    Next: “Good morning, Mrs. Donovan,” they chimed together. Jaymie began setting the table and Marin started fixing lunch for later.

    These visuals are also vague. Be more specific? Can Jaymie set plates and napkins? Can Marin get bread for sandwiches?

    Next: Brain and Tanner came through the back door carrying firewood.

    Brain is spelled incorrectly. “Came” is a vague, non-visual verb. Maybe tromped? Carrying is somewhat vague. Were their arms loaded down with split logs? You show this later, but this is the place to do so.

    Next: The girls greeted them. “Morning, Mr. Donovan. Morning, Tanner.”

    Again, you tell that they greet, and then include a greeting. This is redundant. Show the girls doing something to introduce the greeting, something like this:

    Marin put down the sandwich knife and waved. “Morning, Mr. …”

    Tanner staggered as he tried to carry too many logs for his small frame. Jaymie set down her dishes and hurried to help him. Marin smiled as she watched the pair. Jaymie was ever becoming a protective big sister to the young boy.

    Next: Everyone bustled about tending to their chores and getting ready for the coming day.

    This is vague as well. What are the chores? How do they get ready? Actually these details are not really important, and as a reader, I am finding this scene to be tedious. There is no goal, no focus. I have no feel for where the scene is going.

    Next: Jaymie finished setting the table and then left to wake the two youngest children, Dillon and Adira, and help them get dressed.

    It felt contrived that Marin refers to their names as well as their family standing. I think she would just refer to their names.

    Next: A loud knock sounded on the front door. Everyone looked up. Brian cautiously crossed the room to the door. “Who is it?” he asked through the door.

    You have three uses of “door.” My suggestion:

    A loud knock sounded on the front door. Everyone looked up. Brian skulked on tiptoes across the room and called, “Who is it?”

    The rest of the piece continued the everyday events with a few added points of interest that came through dialogue. I would toss it all out. There is no sense of process or progress toward something. It seems that everyone is milling around without purpose.

    The family members need to focus on a goal, maybe something like sneaking to a meeting of believers in a hidden place. They have to get there without being seen. This raises tension and a sense of purpose, and all of the secrecy, danger, and family love can come out during the process of getting to this place.

    The way you have written this, there is no real tension. You hint at the potential for danger, but readers don’t see it. Turn up the heat and show the danger in real time as Marin and Jaymie duck into a shadow to escape being seen by a soldier. Show a riot, and allow the distraction to help the girls get away from being caught. Show one of the soldiers shooting a protestor without cause. Show that it’s not safe to live in the city anymore.

    As it stands, all of these facts come out in conversation instead of in action, which deadens your story’s presentation.

    Since I recommend pretty much rewriting everything, I’m not going to critique anything else in detail. You have a good idea, but I think you need to show, show, show instead of telling through dialogue.

    I think you’ll have a great story when you’re finished.

    0
  2. Kate

    Wow, these critiques are getting tougher and tougher to pick on. This is a solid piece of work that I really think needs only a little revision. That being said, and after Mr. Davis’ thorough breakdown, I would add only a few things…

    You are juggling a lot of characters and even though you are careful to provide their names, it becomes confusing as soon as Marin and Jaymie finish reading and leave their room. I can offer no real suggestion as to how to fix this as you seem to have done all you can to keep it from becoming confusing. It is just a flood of names though. Perhaps spread their introductions out a little more? As it is it feels too much like a role call and introduction of names rather than people. If you aren’t working with a word limit, don’t be afraid to get wordy to describe who they are.

    You set the passage up in the first line as being through Marin’s view point, but never really strengthen that and it just sort of remains impersonal. Perhaps you could add some internal monologue for Marin, maybe as you introduce the other characters to help spread them out some.

    I see some punctuation issues with speaker tags and beats, but on the whole, it looks like you understand the concept and just need to revise some. I try not to point out grammar or punctuation errors. In my opinion if your structure and character development is off, those errors are kind of moot until your final revision. I do suggest watching for them though.

    The whole passage reads a bit wooden to me. Normally, my biggest suggestion in these critiques are to choose your words carefully and efficiently. Dare I say, you have chosen your words almost TOO carefully and efficiently. You seem to have a lot of short sentences that could be combined and a few consecutive sentences that begin the same way…

    She undid the metal clasps holding the book shut and turned to Psalms. She began to read aloud, her voice smooth and even.

    I would try to rewrite this into one sentence, or in the least, rewrite it so you don’t have two consecutive sentences beginning with ‘she’. Perhaps…

    She undid the metal clasps on the book and turned to Psalms, her voice smooth and even as she began to read aloud.

    Marin finished reading. Morning light was starting to filter in through the shutters on the window.
    Could be something like…
    By the time Marin finished reading, morning light began to filter through the shutters on the window.

    Tanner staggered as he tried to carry too many logs for his small frame. Jaymie set down her dishes and hurried to help him.
    Could be something like…
    Tanner staggered, trying to carry too many logs for his small frame and Jaymie set down her dishes, hurrying to help him.

    A loud knock sounded on the front door. Everyone looked up.
    This one is easy…
    A loud knock sounded on the front door and everyone looked up.

    Everyone in the room sighed in relief. Brian opened the door. Caleb stood outside. He nodded to Brian.

    There are a lot of things that could be done with these sentences to make them less choppy, but combining them into fewer sentences would be best. (this is my opinion on style and my rewritten sentences are hasty suggestions, so take it with a grain of salt)

    In closing, it reads very mechanical and impersonal to me with no strong view point or feeling of tension, fear or the connection between a family unit. You have made some strides towards this with phrases like ‘Jaymie was ever becoming a protective big sister to the young boy.’ and ‘ She kissed her sons on the head and left, leaving Marin and Caleb to walk Jaymie and the boys to the school.’, but I think you should try to elaborate a bit more. What else has Jaymie done to try to become the big sister? Why does Nicole trust the other children to take her boys to school?

    Delve a bit deeper into Marin’s thoughts and show this family’s love and fear rather than tell it.

    You have a solid piece to start with, just keep refining it and keep writing!

    0
    • Is the paragraphing formatted this way in the original text or is it just how the passage converts to the blog format?

      0
      • The blog did that. I tried to correct it, but it didn’t work. I will try again.

        0
        • Oh yes, that is much easier to read now. And after reading it again, I want to add more suggestion…But again Kate, these are only suggestions and my opinion so take them with a grain of salt.

          As I give the passage a second read, I notice places where you can add things I talked about earlier to give more depth to the story and strengthen Marin’s point of view (If indeed the story is from Marin’s point of view as after the first sentence, I can’t really tell if that was the intention or not) These are not questions that I am asking to be answered or criticisms to be fixed, but merely opportunities to strengthen viewpoint and get inside Marin’s head with some internal monologue.

          1-She undid the metal clasps holding the book shut and turned to Psalms. She began to read aloud, her voice smooth and even.

          Where did Marin get the book? Was it acquired through chance or given to here long ago by someone important? Is there a subplot as to how she came by the book that could be introduced here and then dished out in small doses throughout the rest of the story?

          2-Caleb nodded and looked around the room. “Something smells good.”
          Marin smiled and came forward from the kitchen. “Breakfast is just about done. Have you eaten?”

          Who is Caleb and what importance does he have to this family and to Marin specifically that she would offer to share what little food they have with a smile? Are they merely a charitable family or does Caleb hold some significance to them? Or to Marin herself?

          Also, ‘came forward’ suggests that Marin is not the viewpoint character as it seems someone else is witnessing her ‘come forward’. Perhaps she stepped from the kitchen? Or maybe it was the sound of Caleb’s voice that drew her from the kitchen?

          3-Breakfast was a tasteless porridge, but it filled the stomach. Each bowl was filled a little less than normal to provide some for their guest. Not that there was much anyway. It was hard enough to provide food for seven mouths, especially with only three workers in the home.

          If you change the first sentence to ‘Breakfast was a tasteless porridge, but it filled HER stomach’ you draw the reader back into Marin’s point of view. And is she one of the three workers? If not, does she feel guilty that she hasn’t contributed? And if so, does she feel like she could do more? Or does she feel like her hard work is being taken for granted? Or is she happy to help? Regardless of the answer, this is a place to get into her head and show us how she feels and a little of what makes her tick.

          4-Although the porridge was bland, Nicole more than made up for it with a special treat. She set down a plate of strawberries in the center of the table.

          If it is a special treat, why wouldn’t Marin react positively at least in thought? Does she get strawberries often? Does she even like strawberries? Does she believe it is truly a gift from God?

          5-They all involuntarily glanced at the front door. It was shut, but you never knew who could be listening.

          Who might be listening? Was there some instance where a family was dragged away in the night because of something they said? Would Marin have haunting memories of some girl her own age being hauled away in her nightgown in the middle of the night by armed men? Or was it just something she overheard? Involuntarily glancing at a door doesn’t really illustrate the true fear of being snatched by powers that be for merely uttering the wrong thing at the wrong time.

          6-Brian kissed Nicole. “Got to go. Goodbye.” He rushed out the door.
          Nicole picked up Adira. “I’d better go too.” She kissed her sons on the head and left, leaving Marin and Caleb to walk Jaymie and the boys to the school.
          “Have a good day.” Marin hugged her sister.
          “You too.” Jaymie turned and herded the two younger boys toward the building, her fiery red heir blowing in the breeze. Marin and Caleb continued on alone toward the hospital.

          Whoa wait…they went from the house to parting ways on the street in a few sentences. Where is the aftermath of the riots? I understand they didn’t happen right outside Marin’s house, but maybe she has to pass through it to get to the hospital? The armed soldiers lingering about asking for papers. The burnt trash strewn everywhere. The broken windows, the shattered glass. That one eerie shoe that always seems to be left behind for no apparent reason. And…is that blood on the pavement there? How does all that make Marin feel as she walks towards the hospital? Caleb said they were bad, show us how bad they were.

          Anyway, a few more cents to either put in your bank or toss away. All in all, I believe you have a great start. Just let your imagination run wild.

          0
    • Thanks for the input, Joel!

      0
  3. You’re story is awesome, Kate! I’m loving it! It’s really intriguing. I want to keep reading. It seems like the whole world has kind have gone bonkers and has banned the Bible. That’s what I pictured. I like a good persecution story. It seems like an awesome plot and storyline. I reeeaally wish I could keep reading.

    There were only a couple things I think could use fixing:

    Marin lifted the the mattress they shared and Jaymie pulled up one of the floor boards to reveal a hole six inches deep.
    To make this sentence flow better, I would change the ‘and’ in the middle of the sentence and change it to ‘as’ so it would read: Marin lifted the the mattress they shared as Jaymie pulled up one of the floor boards to reveal a hole six inches deep. It would flow a little better.

    Also, it was really difficult for me to keep track of who was who. There were so many people all flooding in at once and none of them had hardly any descriptions. There was no faces or emotions to place, just names. I suggest describing them a little better when the people arrive in the scenes. Not a lot of words, just a brief couple sentences describing the physical, emotional, and/or mental attributes of the characters. It would help readers keep the people/names straight and to gain an attachment to the characters. I also have very few clues of their ages. It seems to me like everyone is either around 8 or 14 years old. That’s just from clues and guesses.

    This story was extremely fast paced. People arrived and departed from the house extremely fast. It might have been intentional, but I suggest slowing the story down just a wee bit and delving a little bit more into the characters and their attachments and mental states to build a attachment between the readers and the characters and to make it more coherent/understandable. (that sentence was extremely long… I hope it made sense to you. 🙂 ) It might make more sense and not overwhelm the readers as much. Just a suggestion.

    I have a question: is it an orphanage? Is that why the kids call the grownups Mr. and Mrs. instead of Dad and Mom? and why they all seem like brothers and sisters?

    I love your story, Kate. It’s really good and I imagine it could turn into an awesome adventure. Keep on writing and keep up the good work. 🙂

    0
  4. I just read your story and most of my comments might be duplications of the previous ones, such as how does she find the candle in the dark room and it must be a small room if a stub lights the whole room. So my one bit of advice: if there is a consistency about the use of a word, a setting that needs to be changed, etc. then it is usually a good idea to consider revising. Good plot; might want to see if all the characters are necessary. Do they move the story forward? Each character should have a “job” and often do not need to be named if they are there once.

    0

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.