Critique Group – Commencement

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Please, Lord Vader, put me down now so I can finish the critique.

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Commencement – by Alissa

The boy awoke alone in the snow. It was night out and stars illuminated the vast swaths of white that blanketed the earth all around.

Shivering, he sat up and stared. The stars above darkened with a passing cloud and large flakes began to surge from the heavens. Standing unsteadily, the boy reached down and lifted up two handfuls of snow. He gazed at it, dumbfounded. His breath steamed all around him, and slowly the snow melted and trickled through his fingers before he let the watery mess drop. He took one step and his sneakers sank more than a foot into the white powder. Pausing, he looked around again, trying to understand where he was and what had happened. In the distance, he noticed several hazy lights that shown through the white gloom.

Hugging himself and desperately trying to keep warm, the boy slogged through the drifts of snow. The lights were further away than he realized, but he pressed on, eager to be out of the cold. The flurry continued picking up in intensity and the howling wind drove bits of sleet into his face. His clothes grew wet before freezing into layers of brittle ice that cracked as he moved.

Staggering, the boy reached the source of the lights. His mouth dropped open at the sight of a huge, looming castle. Its parapets rose through the swirls of snow, piercing the sky with towers. The windows were crusted with layers of ice.

The boy stumbled as he went up the stone steps to an arched door. Reaching out with a trembling hand, he gripped the metal ringer and weakly broke it free from an icy film before bringing it down on the door with a boom. Some of his bare skin stuck to the metal and ripped off, yet his hand was so numb he barely felt it. Blood dripped down his palm, warm at first but freezing into tiny drops at the tips of his fingers. He felt so cold…. His eyelids began to droop.

Within a few minutes the door groaned open. A gust of warmth touched the boy’s face and he could smell the rich scent of cooking food. A man stood before him and stared at him with shock. The boy pitched forward—his exhaustion and the cold taking their toll. The man caught him and before he fell unconscious, he heard the man call, “My lord! This is a Cuall!”

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5 replies

  1. Alissa,

    This is an intriguing start. It made me want to keep reading. I felt compassion for the boy, so you succeeded in evoking an emotional connection.

    Let’s discuss some ways to make it better.

    First, it seems like you were trying to write from the boy’s point of view (POV). If so, it seems to me that he wouldn’t refer to himself as “the boy.” That label makes it read as if a narrator were telling the story or perhaps some bystander. A narrator would know the boy’s name, and there was no mention of a bystander watching the boy. In either case, using “the boy” doesn’t work for me.

    If he could be confused enough to not remember anything, that might work, but you would have to indicate that state somehow, like this:

    The boy awoke alone in the snow. His head pounded. His vision blurred. Where was he? Who was he? All memories seemed to swirl in a dizzying cloud. As his eyes cleared, he looked around. It was night out, and stars illuminated the vast swaths of white that blanketed the earth in every direction.

    “Shivering, he sat up and stared.”

    I noticed that you started several sentences with a participle, an “ing” verb. It’s fine to do that, but be careful to avoid doing it too frequently. In this short excerpt, you used the following participles to begin sentences:

    Shivering, standing, pausing, hugging, staggering, and reaching. I would try to restructure to eliminate at least two or three of these and instead begin the sentences with an indicative verb.

    “The stars above darkened with a passing cloud and large flakes began to surge from the heavens.”

    This is a compound sentence. You need a comma after “cloud.”

    “Standing unsteadily, the boy reached down and lifted up two handfuls of snow.”

    You don’t need “up.” There is only one direction you can lift something.

    “His breath steamed all around him, and slowly the snow melted and trickled through his fingers before he let the watery mess drop.”

    Technically, breath doesn’t steam. Steam is water heated past 212 degrees F. He is seeing vapor in the air. Also, you don’t need “him.” In his POV, if it’s “all around” we know it’s all around him. This sentence didn’t bother me until later when I discovered that it was cold enough to make his blood freeze. If it’s that cold, I don’t think snow would melt in his hands.

    “He took one step and his sneakers sank more than a foot into the white powder.”

    This is a compound sentence. You need a comma after “step.” This confused me. Since he awoke lying in the snow, there are a couple of options. He was lying on bare ground, and it snowed, which would have covered him. If he dropped to the ground after the snow fell, if it was powder, he would have sunk into the snow, but the opening paragraph said he could see the white blankets around him. A foot of snow wouldn’t allow that in either case.

    “Pausing, he looked around again, trying to understand where he was and what had happened.”

    Could you show this “trying to understand”? Maybe something like:

    “He looked around again. How did he get here? How long had he been lying on the ground?,
    “In the distance, he noticed several hazy lights that shown through the white gloom.”

    In his POV, you don’t need “he noticed.” Just report the visual. Also, it should be “shone” instead of “shown.”

    Consider this:

    “In the distance, several hazy lights that shone through the white gloom.”

    “Hugging himself and desperately trying to keep warm, the boy slogged through the drifts of snow.”

    Hugging himself is a way to try to keep warm, but you used an “and” to indicate that he used other ways to try to keep warm. Can you show these? Did he blow on his hands? Duck to avoid a breeze. Visuals can make this stronger.

    “The lights were further away than he realized, but he pressed on, eager to be out of the cold.”

    For distance, use farther instead of further. You could transform this into more of a showing instead of telling section, something like this:

    He trudged a mile. Two miles. The lights drew no closer. How far away could they be? The bitter wind knifed through his thin jacket. His cheeks numbed. His toes ached. Death’s cold hand seemed to wrap chilling fingers around his heart. If he didn’t find shelter soon, he would join the snow-covered victims of winter’s icy blast.

    “The flurry continued picking up in intensity and the howling wind drove bits of sleet into his face.”

    This is a compound sentence. You need a comma after “intensity.”

    “His mouth dropped open at the sight of a huge, looming castle.”

    His mouth dropping open is a reaction to what he saw, but you reported the sight after the reaction. This is out of order. If you want to maintain an intimate POV, report events in the order the POV character experiences them.

    “The boy stumbled as he went up the stone steps to an arched door.”

    “Went” is a weak verb. Try something more descriptive.

    “Blood dripped down his palm, warm at first but freezing into tiny drops at the tips of his fingers.”

    This jerked me out of the story. His blood froze while still on his body? I think the extreme temperature needed for that to happen would surely have killed him.

    “A gust of warmth touched the boy’s face and he could smell the rich scent of cooking food.”

    This is a compound sentence. You need a comma after “face.”

    “A man stood before him and stared at him with shock.”

    What does “with shock” look like?

    “The man caught him and before he fell unconscious, he heard the man call, “My lord! This is a Cuall!”

    This is a compound sentence. You need a comma after “him.” Also, in intimate POV, you don’t need “he heard.” This is a bit confusing, because you reported the falling unconscious before the call that came before he fell unconscious.

    Maybe this:

    “The man gathered him into his arms. As the boy leaned against the man’s warm body, dizziness overtook his mind. Blackness flooded his vision.

    “My lord!” the man called. “This is a Cuall!”

    That’s all. Good job. Keep up the good work.

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  2. You did an amazing job. I agree with Bryan. It really does make me want to read more. Many of the other items that Bryan caught I did not. However, after reading his comments I see where these changes would definitely make the story stronger and more believable. Keep up the good work. You are on your way to great things.

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  3. Thank you! This definitely helps and makes it stronger! I knew something was needed to make it better and this is it. Thanks!

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  4. I love the story and the plot so far it is so captivating. I too agree it would really help if the boy had a name and a description of what he looks like. Keep it up.

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  5. I really enjoyed your prologue, it has a great hook to get the reader interested in the story. though one thing i noticed was how you used ‘the boy’ instead of a proper name. i think this would be fine if you only referred once in the beginning of the story and then referred to the boy as ‘him’ and other variations. Keep writing, you are doing a great job. I would be curious to see how the rest of your story plays out.

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