Critique Group – A Monster Saved Part 3

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A Monster Saved Part 3 – by Alahna

A Monster Saved Part 1

A Monster Saved Part 2

The traveler groaned as he rolled to his back and pulled the handkerchief down away from his mouth. He stared up at the dripping cave ceiling and breathed deeply as he mentally assessed his injuries. He felt no broken bones or crushed ribs, his hands and wrists smarted while his head was spinning like a top, but it was all minor. He silently thanked God and slowly began to sit up.

Suddenly, a scurrying sound whispered from behind him. He whipped around, sending his vision spinning and his stomach lurching. Closing his eyes, he waited for the reeling to subside and gradually opened them. Without his lantern the cave was dark as twilight save for a tiny shaft of penetrating sunlight which revealed a mottled lump beside him, a huddled shape against the far wall, and a heap of cast off objects in the corner.

The traveler felt around for his knapsack and, locating the soft leather, pulled out a broken candle and lit it. The faint glow barely pierced the darkness a foot around him, but it was enough to recognize the glassy eye of a china doll lying in the nest of shredded blankets and clothing. He picked up the destroyed remains of the toy and stared at the scratched and broken face, pity rising in him for the once beautiful creation now reduced to ruin. Behind him the scratch and scurry which had alarmed him echoed again. He slowly turned and raised his candle high, willing it to illuminate deeper into the darkness.

The glow, as if directed by an invisible hand, alighted on the huddled shape he had seen earlier, but now it seemed to be breathing, its frame shaking and two eyes reflecting in the light. He inched toward it as if approaching a skittish animal, whispering in a soothing voice. “Don’t be afraid. I’m not going to hurt you.”

As he moved closer he recognized the shoulders and head of a person, a hood pulled over matted hair while grime and blood clung to a terrified face. He reached out his hand and brushed the shoulder. The creature shrank from him, but, surprisingly, it did not run. The traveler slowly backed up and motioned it to follow, “come. Step into the light. I won’t hurt you.”

Tentatively the creature crept forward and stood just outside the beam of light, hesitating. The traveler watched as it glanced between him and the light then over its shoulder at the concealing shadows. As if startled by what it saw in the darkness behind it, the creature faced him again, took a deep breath, and stepped into the shaft of sunlight.

~ Jeremiah 23:24 (Psalm 139:7-10, Hebrews 4:13, Jeremiah 16:17)

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The creature held her breath as she watched the man take in her appearance. She looked down at her hands, the long fingers covered in dirt and slime, the nails elongated into black claws. The layers of clothing she wore covered her blistered body and misshapen legs, but it seemed like his gaze pierced even that meager protection. He stepped toward her, holding her gaze, watching to see if she would run, but the creature knew that she would rather face a thousand men than the monster she knew lurked in the shadows.

The man stood before her in the light, but it seemed that the gentle glow came from within him, the candle a weak flame compared to his inner beauty. He reached up and gently pulled the hood from her head, releasing the thinning white hair, a mark of her slow inner death. She stared at the ground, praying that he would stop, but gentle fingers rested under her chin and raised her eyes to his clear brown ones. He studied the burned and leprous-blistered face, the raw black lips and pale white eyes which stood out like letters on a page in the sunlight, and the flaming red scars/welts that crawled down the side of her cheek and onto her throat, disappearing into the layers of fabric.

Smiling sadly, the traveler brushed a coil of hair off of her forehead and spoke, “do not be afraid. I can save you and take you from here. You only have to trust me. Will you put your faith in me?”

Tears slid down her muddy cheek and the creature nodded, trusting this stranger with her whole black heart. The traveler smiled and bent forward, kissing her forehead. He stepped back and instantly, heat bloomed in her chest. The creature staggered forward into her knees and squeezed her eyes shut as the heat grew until it was a consuming flame, burning her from the inside out. She tried to scream, begging the pain to stop, but no sound escaped. Suddenly, an angry roar crashed against her ears and the cavern shook, spears of rock breaking loose from the ceiling as the creature fell into darkness.

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11 replies

  1. Alahna,

    There is a lot to like in this piece, plenty of emotional connection, including empathy and hope. I loved the vivid descriptions. I like this excerpt and would read on.

    It is clear that you wanted to change point of view in the second section. You need to decide if you are trying for a truly intimate point of view, that is, to make readers feel like they are in the skin of the POV character and experiencing the surroundings through the character’s senses.

    My guess is you were trying to do write with intimacy, so I will critique based on that assumption.
    The details:

    “The traveler groaned as he rolled to his back and pulled the handkerchief down away from his mouth.”

    I don’t think you need both down and away. Choose one.

    “He stared up at the dripping cave ceiling and breathed deeply as he mentally assessed his injuries.”

    I don’t think you need “up.” Since he’s looking at the ceiling, the direction is clear.

    “He felt no broken bones or crushed ribs, his hands and wrists smarted while his head was spinning like a top, but it was all minor.”

    In intimate POV, we try to eliminate as many narrator telling phrases as possible. “He felt” is such a phrase. Here is one way to accomplish this, by showing this in his interior monologue:

    He stared at the dripping cave ceiling and breathed deeply. Any injuries? Everything seemed to move, so no broken bones. Ribs were okay. His hands and wrists smarted, and his head spun like a top, but it was all minor.

    “Suddenly, a scurrying sound whispered from behind him.”

    I don’t think you need “suddenly.”

    “a heap of cast off objects in the corner.”

    Cast-off should be hyphenated.

    “pity rising in him for the once beautiful creation now reduced to ruin.”

    I’m not sure who this man is, but most men wouldn’t show so much emotion over a broken doll. You might have a reason for this, so I’m just pointing out that it seemed odd to me.

    “Behind him the scratch and scurry which had alarmed him echoed again.”

    I would leave out “which had alarmed him.”

    The traveler slowly backed up and motioned it to follow, “come. Step into the light. I won’t hurt you.”

    I would add a “for” and punctuate it this way:

    The traveler slowly backed up and motioned it for to follow. “Come. Step into the light. I won’t hurt you.”

    “Tentatively the creature crept forward and stood just outside the beam of light, hesitating.”

    I don’t think you need both tentatively and hesitating. “Crept” shows tentativeness, so I would take tentatively out.

    “The traveler watched as it glanced between him and the light then over its shoulder at the concealing shadows.”

    I would delete “the traveler watched.” It is a narrator phrase. Maybe, “The creature glanced between the traveler and the light …”

    At this point you switched POV to the creature. Would she call herself that? Maybe so, but it seemed odd to me.

    “He stepped toward her, holding her gaze, watching to see if she would run, but the creature knew that she would rather face a thousand men than the monster she knew lurked in the shadows.”

    “The creature knew” and “she knew” are narrator phrases. I would take them out. Also, “watching to see if she would run” is telling readers the traveler’s thoughts. How could the creature know why he was watching?

    Maybe you could write: “He took a step her way, holding her gaze. But why? Did he wonder if she would run? No, of course she wouldn’t run. She would rather face a thousand men than the monster that lurked in the shadows.”

    “He reached up and gently pulled the hood from her head, releasing the thinning white hair, a mark of her slow inner death.”

    I got the impression that she was huddled low. Why would he reach up? Also, would she see her own white hair? Maybe this – He reached out and gently pulled the hood from her head. Her thinning white hair fell across her eyes, a mark of her slow inner death.”

    “He studied the burned and leprous-blistered face, the raw black lips and pale white eyes which stood out like letters on a page in the sunlight, and the flaming red scars/welts that crawled down the side of her cheek and onto her throat, disappearing into the layers of fabric.”

    This is beautiful, descriptive prose, but it takes readers outside of the POV character and forces them to see the creature from the traveler’s POV. She cannot see these features herself.

    Smiling sadly, the traveler brushed a coil of hair off of her forehead and spoke, “do not be afraid. I can save you and take you from here. You only have to trust me. Will you put your faith in me?”

    Capitalize like this – “Do not be …”

    “Tears slid down her muddy cheek and the creature nodded, trusting this stranger with her whole black heart.”

    This is beautiful again, but she probably can’t see the muddy cheek.

    “The creature staggered forward into her knees and squeezed her eyes shut as the heat grew until it was a consuming flame, burning her from the inside out.”

    Do you mean “onto” her knees? Also, I would break this sentence into two. “The creature staggered forward onto her knees and squeezed her eyes shut. The heat blossomed into a consuming flame that burned from the inside out.”

    “Suddenly, an angry roar crashed against her ears and the cavern shook, spears of rock breaking loose from the ceiling as the creature fell into darkness.”

    I would take out “suddenly.” Also, you need a comma after “ears.” This is a compound sentence. Since the shaking came before the spears of rock breaking, and since I can’t see how rocks breaking loose from the ceiling would cause her to fall, I would break the actions apart according to their order and write it like this: “An angry roar crashed in, making the cavern shake. Rocky spears broke loose from the ceiling and struck the muddy floor. With a rumble, the ground gave way, and the creature fell into darkness.”

    Again, you have a lot of great prose. If you stick closely to POV, you will lose some of it. You might decide to show all of it from the traveler’s POV. I’m not sure you gain much by switching to the creature’s. If you want to show her fear of the monster in the darkness, you could have her take a step away from him, then halt and tremble as she stares into the darkness.

    Overall, you did a great job. Keep up the good work.

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    • Thank you so much for all the great tips, Mr. Davis! How would you suggest I keep the descriptions of her physical appearance, but at the same time have the section from her POV? Or should I just change it to the traveler’s POV so that I can keep the descriptions?

      Thank you again!

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      • Could you insert the descriptions right before the POV switch? Something like this:

        As if startled by what it saw in the darkness behind it, the creature faced him again, took a deep breath, and stepped into the shaft of sunlight. The burned, leprous-blistered face appeared to female. Raw black lips protruded under an oft-broken nose, and pale white eyes stood out like letters on a page. Flaming red scars/welts crawled down the side of her muddy cheek and onto her throat, disappearing into layers of fabric.

        ~ Jeremiah 23:24 (Psalm 139:7-10, Hebrews 4:13, Jeremiah 16:17)

        —————————————

        The creature held her breath as the man took in her appearance. She looked down at her hands, the long fingers covered in dirt and slime, the nails elongated into black claws.

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  2. Hello, Alhana,

    I can’t tell you how beautiful I think this part of your story is. The words you choose are so poignant, making your style fraught with emotion and beauty all at once. And the way you have developed the traveler makes his tenderness and love so clear for the reader to see. Truly lovely!

    I only have a few comments which are very trivial, little quibbles compared to your passionate writing.

    Throughout the text, there are some commas missing after dependent clauses at the beginning of some sentences: Behind him, the scratch and scurry which had alarmed him. . .
    As he moved closer, he recognized. . .

    The use of the word “suddenly” comes up often which may make the word seem redundant to the readers. Often, just deleting it when it is at the beginning of the sentence helps the flow immensely.

    In the paragraph where the face of the creature is described as “leprous-blistered,” it might make more sense to write this as two adjectives rather than hyphenating it. “He studied the burned, leprous, blistered face. . .” or you might explain them as blistered caused by leprosy: “He studied the burned face that was pocked with leprous blisters, the raw black. . .”

    And, as just one more small comment, because slashes are not encouraged in creative writing, choosing either “scars” or “welts” rather than using “scars/welts” would help keep the punctuation clear.

    Other than that, I’m still loving this. Your writing is so descriptive and vivid and I think your pacing the story very nicely, keeping me interested and involved with the characters. Thank you so much for sharing more of it for us to read!

    Happy writing and have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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    • Wow! I misspelled your name. That was rather mean of me. Please permit me to try again.

      Hello, Alahna! 🙂

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    • Thanks for your support with this whole story, Haley. I really need to work on the “suddenly” thing. I just don’t know how to portray that something happens “out of the blue” when you least expect it to. Any thoughts? The idea for “leprous-blistered” is GREAT! I’ll definitely use that one. The reason for the slash is I couldn’t decide which word I liked better, “scars” or “welts” . Which do you think?

      Thanks again!

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  3. I’m glad you are finding my little tips helpful! And thanks for responding. It’s always nice to hear feedback on advice that one gives.

    My favorite way to show when something happens suddenly, rather than starting a sentence with “suddenly” or “without warning,” is to give the POV character an action. He might jump in surprise or wheel around to see what just came up behind him. This not only takes the story out of a narrative voice but it puts the readers directly in the body of the character so they are more likely to feel the surprise themselves.

    What I also like to do is really build up the tension before a sudden event. Merely as an example, I might write the second paragraph of the first section like this:

    “The cave was dark and lonely. . . a solitary heart with no hope. Silence pounded, heavy and deep, only the plaintive trickling of unseen water breaking the superficial peace. In the depth of the lonely heart, he could feel the pain of abandonment, the pain of unhealed hurts, the pain of suffering. But the silence—the emptiness that surrounded him—it all beat upon him so that all he could do was listen, listen for the cries only he could hear, listen for—What was that?

    “He whipped around, sending his vision spinning and his stomach lurching. Behind him, the fading echos of sudden scurrying whispered, and he closed his eyes, waiting for the reeling to subside. He gradually opened them, but without his lantern. . .”

    That was hastily written, but it kind of gets the point across. I know you’re limited to the number of words you can use and this may not be the best option for you, but it’s another way to ramp up emotion.

    Now, that’s not to say that an occasional “suddenly” is a bad thing. All writers I’ve studied use it. It’s just a word to avoid using too often. And, believe me, I know all about words used out of habit. I am constantly having to edit “that” out of everything I write!

    As for “scars” and “welts,” don’t you love it when you find too many words to describe a character or situation? I do! I guess your final decision between them should be based on what you are trying to convey.

    The Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary Unabridged Second Edition defines a scar as, “a mark left on the skin or other tissue after a wound, burn, ulcer, pustule, lesion, etc. has healed.” A welt, on the other hand, is defined as, “a raised ridge left on the skin by a slash or a blow; a wale; a weal.”

    This makes sense to me as I have a small welt on my arm where I was once cut by a shard of porcelain, but I have a scar on my wrist where I burned myself on an iron. A welt is a raised slash that has healed and a scar is a flat discoloring of healed skin.

    If the creature was greatly abused by whips or knifes, then welts may be more applicable, but if she was burned or bruised, then scar would be the better choice. It just all depends what sort of imagery you are trying to put in your readers’ minds. Judging from the way you described it, though, I pictured long, angry welts.

    Thank you, once again, for sharing you work with us! I hope these suggestion, drawn out and rambling as they are, give you some inspiration.

    Have a great week!

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    • Wow, the suddenly thing really makes sense. I will definitely be sure to use that in the future.

      Ahhh! Too many words!! “Scars” sounds impressive, but they sometimes aren’t as visible or dramatic as welts. I have a scar on my pointer finger from a sparkler accident (stupid mistake) and it has blended in with the rest of my finger and doesn’t stand out, but my brother has a few raised “welts” from knife accidents. So, I think welt is the way to go. Thank you for the time you put into helping me answer this question!

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