Critique Group – Criminals Cross

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Criminals Cross – by Natasha

Remember your rage. Remember that this is all for her. Ariav repeated the words in his head as he slipped through the dark streets of Capernaum. The words played like a mantra, blocking out the voice of reason. The foolish voice inside that kept saying what he was going to do was wrong. They killed your wife. They deserve to be punished. He clenched his fists tighter and moved quicker. Eventually, he reached his destination – a small two room house on the other side of the city.

In the darkness of night, he crouched behind the crumbling wall and plotted his next move. His hand brushed the hilt of the small knife by his waist. He kept his breathing slow and even, his eyes half closed as he focused not on sight, but sound. Inside, his target shuffled about. The moon was nearing its midpoint. It had been almost two hours since he had crept into this hiding spot, near the open window of his target’s house. Soon, the opportunity to strike would present itself.

A few minutes later, a slight creak signaled the door opening. Swift footfalls on the dusty ground echoed as his target started to walk away. Ariav waited, counting his own breaths. One…two… three… He peered around the wall, catching a glimpse of his targets back as he rounded a corner. Rising to his feet, he darted after him. His target walked quickly, glancing over his shoulder every now and then, but Ariav had little trouble staying unseen. He followed the man all the way to the outer edge of the city. As the man passed an alleyway, Ariav rushed forwards, grabbing the man and pulling him into the darkness. He wrapped his hand over the man’s mouth and pressed his knife to the man’s throat. The man squirmed, and Ariav tightened his grip.

“Silence, or you will never see tomorrow,” Ariav hissed. The man stopped moving, his body tense and still. “Your leader. Where is he?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about-” the man stammered.

“Liar!”

“Please-”

“Last chance.” Ariav pressed the knife in a little harder. “Tell me where he is.”

“I swear I don’t know!” The man whimpered. “He doesn’t tell us anything. I haven’t seen him since all the riots.”

Kill him. Ariav gripped the knife tighter. It would be easy. There were no guards around. No one would see him do it. But this man didn’t kill his wife. He may have been part of the same band of criminals, but he hadn’t done anything. Loosening his grip, he growled and shoved the man to the ground. With a huff of disgust, he turned and raced back to his house.

 

“Brother, would you please come with me?” Mahir stood in the doorway of Ariav’s house, his hands pressed together in a gesture of pleading.

“No!” Ariav snapped. He heaved a pack of supplies onto a cart, turning his back to his brother. He paused, wiping the sweat from his brow. He swallowed a yawn and rubbed his eyes.

“Are you not curious about this man? They say he has healed the sick and dying. They even say he casts out demons.”

Ariav rolled his eyes as he began to harness his donkey to the cart. “I don’t have time for rumors, Mahir. All this talk is just stretching the truth. This so called messiah uses some medicine to cure a few people, and hire people to pretend to be possessed. Everyone thinks he’s come to save us all. But it’s nothing but trouble.”

“Then why don’t you come see for yourself?”

“Because-” Ariav turned away and walked into his house, taking a small coin purse from under his mattress. Mahir followed him. “-unless he can “magically” replace everything those robbers stole and fix my pottery wheel, then I’ll be living on the streets.” Ariav walked back outside. He locked his door tight, double checking that the windows were all boarded. Hopefully that would deter any more robbers.

“Ariav-”

“Please, just leave me be. I would like to reach Magdala as soon as possible, and you are slowing me down.”

His brother tried to catch his eye, but Ariav ignored him. He checked everything one last time, then started down the road, leading his donkey. He could still sense his brothers eyes on him, but he didn’t look back.

 

The sun had just crossed its highest point in the sky when he arrived in Magdala. He hurried as swiftly as he could through the streets. Thankfully, it wasn’t too crowded, so it didn’t take long before he reached the shop he needed. It was one of the closest towns to his home of Capernaum that he could get a new potters wheel from. When he arrived however, he saw no sign of the owner, Tamid. Swallowing his frustration, he headed for Tamid’s house.

After knocking on the door several times, Tamid finally answered. The man’s hair was scraggly and unkempt, and dark circles hung under his eyes.

“Ariav. Ah… I’m sorry. I haven’t had a chance to open the shop. My wife hasn’t been feeling well and I’ve been trying to look after her. Did you need something?”

“I need a new wheel-”

Tamid began to shake his head.

“I’m afraid I cannot help you right now. I don’t have any time to make more and I sold my last one several days ago. Maybe you could come back in a week?”

Ariav frowned. “I don’t have a week. I need one now.”

Tamid gave him a pitying look. “Perhaps you should try Korazin. There is a man there who sells wheels.”

“Very well…” Ariav tried to hide the bitterness in his voice. “Hope you wife feels better.”

Tamid nodded in thanks before closing the door. Ariav trudged back to his cart and began to lead his donkey home. He’d planned to be back home with a new wheel by midday. Now he’d have to make an additional trip. At least he’d left early in the morning. Korazin was a mere two miles from his home in Capernaum. He could easily make it there and back before nightfall.

As he entered the city however, he began to wonder if some unseen force were conspiring against him. The streets were thronged with multitudes of people. Far more than could have lived in the city. Most seemed to be heading in a particular direction. His frustration peaked when he was forced to leave his donkey tied up at the city’s edge. Instead of trying to force his way through the crowds, he tried to go around to the northern edge of the city. As he circled the west side, he came upon a large crowd gathered near the base of a hill. With sigh, he started to work his way through the multitudes.

As he did, many gave him dirty looks and hushed him. Their attention was fixed on something to the north. He huffed and glanced in the direction everyone was looking. A lone figure climbed up a hill until he was a short distance above the crowd. He took a seat on a large rock. The crowds murmurs died down, and the man began to speak.

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11 replies

  1. This is a really cool idea for a story. I particularly like how vividly you describe everything. One thing I noticed though, was how you used ‘He’ or ‘Him’ more than was necessary, particularly when the protagonist was alone. You said “Rising to his feet, he darted after him. The man walked quickly, glancing over his shoulder every now and then, but Ariav had little trouble staying unseen” this alone is good, but maybe if you changed it to “Rising to his feet, he darted after his target. The man walked quickly, glancing over his shoulder every now and then, but Ariav had little trouble staying unseen…” By using the noun “Target” instead of the pronoun “Him”, you can create a clarity about who you are talking about, which is important when writing for an audience, in a class I’m taking, one of the most important rules is to write for your audience, instead of for yourself. The goal is to create a paper or story that is clearly written and explains everything without being condescending or overly simple. Anyhow, I hope that helps. You’re a really talented writer, keep up the good work!

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    • Thank you very much! That’s a really good idea. That particular section was hard for me because I couldn’t get a good idea how to describe it, but I like your suggestion. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for that.

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  2. A few thoughts. First off, great way to start the story with strong action. Within the first couple paragraphs we get a great picture of who this character is, and what they stand for, but following that great “show don’t tell” rule. One warning going forward. I suspect a large number of your readers, particularly if you plan to write, as I suspect, for a Christian audience, will recognize instantly who this strange teacher is. I’ve read several works that have done something similar (the most popular example that comes to mind is Ben Hur), with various degrees of success. Be careful of falling victim to the predictable. Be especially careful if your plan is to have your main character have an encounter with Jesus, track down the people that hurt him, and almost kill them, but at the last second show mercy because of something Jesus did. It’s a cliché in Christian literature that is as overused as the Four chord progression in music. There are plenty of ways to vary it, but be aware that many of your readers will probably already have an idea of where this story is headed, and it will be up to you to mix it up for them.

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    • Hi Michael! Thank you so much for your thoughts. I’m definitely going to take that into consideration, and I do have some ways in mind of giving things a fresh take. Also, I actually intend for it to be very clear who the “strange teacher” is, and it’s made very clear another couple sentences in, intentionally. Actually, the only reason there isn’t a little more is because the submission limit. But I definitely want readers to know right off the bat, who this man is. Thank you again for your suggestion.

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  3. Hey Natasha! I really liked the concept for this story, and I think you are a talented writer. I enjoyed reading your work, so please don’t take my suggestions as meaning that I didn’t like it!

    The main thing that I think you could work on is filling in the space between sections and really slowing down and being in the moment. Part of this would also be diving deeper into the POV character’s mind. For example, near the beginning you wrote:

    “He kept his breathing slow and even, his eyes half closed as he focused not on sight, but sound. Inside, his target shuffled about. The moon was nearing its midpoint. It had been almost two hours since he had crept into this hiding spot, near the open window of his target’s house.”

    This threw me off while I was reading because you start the paragraph by talking about what he is doing currently, and then all of a sudden you jump forward two hours. Another possibility is that you jumped forward two hours in between this paragraph and the previous paragraph. In that case, at the beginning of this paragraph you are describing what he is doing two hours later, and then tell the reader that two hours have passed midway through the paragraph. Or, the last option is that you originally had a scene break between the two paragraphs. However, this seems like it is the opening to your story, so you probably wouldn’t want a scene break so soon. And even if this was a continuation of earlier paragraphs, I still don’t think you would need a scene break.

    Anyway, when I was reading it, my impression was that you jumped forward two hours in the middle of the paragraph, but either way, it feels very jerky to me. It also takes me out of the story a little bit, because I don’t get to experience those two hours with the character. By just telling the reader that two hours passed, you’re also telling the reader that they are only watching the events, not experiencing them with the POV character.

    Of course I’m not suggesting that you fill your story with two hours of internal dialogue about the crickets and grass, but maybe let your readers know that two hours passed by seeing it through the character’s eyes. It doesn’t need to be anything extreme, just something simple. For example:

    “He kept his breathing slow and even, his eyes half closed as he focused not on sight, but sound. He was crouched beneath the open window of the house and could make out his target moving about inside, but he would have to wait until his prey came outside to carry out his plans.
    He had hoped that he would not have to wait long, but as time slowly dragged by it appeared that the man was in no hurry to leave the house. Minutes stretched into what felt like an hour, and despite his need for silence, his cramping legs and back forced him to carefully maneuver himself into a more comfortable position. He suppressed an angry sigh. Would this man never leave?
    He rested his head against the wall of the house and watched as the moon slowly climbed higher. The progress was agonizingly slow, but as it neared its apex, a slight creak to his right put his senses on alert. Was that the door?”

    Obviously that’s not a perfect example, but hopefully you get what I’m trying to say. This only takes a few extra seconds to read, but now the reader actually feels like two hours have passed. Plus, you can use this time to really get the reader inside of Ariav’s head. This could even be a good time to go a little deeper into his moral dilemma that you mentioned in the first paragraph. You don’t have to do anything long, but just show what is going through his mind. That’s what is really going to get your reader to feel like they’re in the story and also connect to Ariav as a person. If they don’t feel like they are struggling with him, then they probably won’t connect with him very deeply.

    In fact, I would say (though I don’t know that story line or what you have planned for Ariav) that it is even more vital than normal that you give the readers reasons to connect to Ariav, due to the way that he is portrayed in these early scenes. You introduce him as a man who is angry (for good reason), but who is using that anger to fuel revenge that he knows is wrong, and he is consciously blocking out his “moral compass” for lack of a better term. This can potentially discourage a reader from becoming attached to him, as well as discourage the reader from hoping that his efforts succeed. Because of this, you really need to work hard at giving the reader points of connection to Ariav. Even if his actions are questionable, show the struggle going on in his mind so that the reader can at least understand and sympathize with him. I know you did this some in the first paragraph, but I would really suggest putting in more of his thoughts, and not only about his internal struggle, but also about the things that are happening.

    One of the things that really makes a reader feel like they are “in the story” and seeing through the POV character’s eyes rather than just reading a description about what is happening is giving the reader the thoughts of the character. So when something happens, tell the reader what the character thinks about it. Mr. Davis has some really good videos about Intimate POV on Youtube, which I would highly suggest you watch if you haven’t yet.

    Also, a little detail you could look at is how people kept time at this point in history. I only searched briefly, but it seems like they used hours during the day, and “watches” during the night. There were four watches during the night, so you might change your description of time based on what your research turns up.

    Anyway, this post is getting really long, but I’m going to highlight a few more instances where I think you would really benefit by slowing down, following Ariav as he goes, and showing the reader what he is thinking. I won’t rewrite them, since this is already so long, but it’s the same basic idea as the first scene when he was waiting under the window. I’ll mention some more specific comments, but I’ll try to be brief.

    So, here’s the next scene:

    “Rising to his feet, he darted after him. His target walked quickly, glancing over his shoulder every now and then, but Ariav had little trouble staying unseen. He followed the man all the way to the outer edge of the city. As the man passed an alleyway, Ariav rushed forwards, grabbing the man and pulling him into the darkness.”

    Similar to suddenly jumping forward two hours, you say that “he followed the man all the way to the outer edge of the city.” I assume that this is a somewhat far distance, especially since you describe it as “all the way”. However, the reader does not get to experience this journey with Ariav. You don’t need to write anything long, just a few sentences showing the journey so that the reader feels like they are right there with them, rather than being teleported all the way to the outer edge of the city. Also, I would try letting the reader really see through Ariav’s eyes and hear his thoughts. Instead of just saying “Ariav had little trouble staying unseen”, describe what he is doing. What is he thinking as he trails this man? How close is he staying behind him? Is he nervous about being spotted, or is this something that he’s familiar with?

    This is an excellent opportunity to hint at his backstory without actually telling the reader what it is. If he is familiar with this sort of work (which he seems to be), then that will make the reader ask “why is he familiar with this type of scenario? Who is this man and what is his past?” If he’s not familiar with it and he is nervous, then the reader can probably relate to that, and it also begs the question: “how did he and his wife get tangled up with these people at all?” Either way you don’t answer the question, but you’re leaving little hints that the reader can begin to put together. However, if you pass through this section too quickly without ever getting to see inside Ariav’s head, then the reader will probably not ask too many questions, and you will lose a lot of tension. Right now the reader barely has time to settle into the scene before they are teleported somewhere else, and you are losing another opportunity to connect the reader to Ariav.

    Also, I would suggest putting in a little bit more description to really make the scene come to life. You don’t need to go into a whole bunch of detail, but just some passing comments about what things look or smell like will really add depth to your world.

    As we move on, I just wanted to point out that I really liked the paragraph where Ariav decides to let the man go. You showed us the struggle going on in his mind, his process of working through the problem, and then his reasoning for his decision. You also showed that he has two (or more) sides waging war inside of him. Part of him wanted to simply kill the man, but he fought against his instincts. Great job on this part!

    As a quick side note, another example where you could work on descriptions is this sentence:

    “This so called messiah uses some medicine to cure a few people, and hire people to pretend to be possessed.”

    Notice how you use several vague phrases: “some medicine”, “a few people”, “hire(s) people”. Try maybe swapping these out for some more colorful phrases. Nothing too crazy, just a little more concrete. You can especially get away with this since he is a little angry, so he is more prone to use exaggerations and overstatements:

    “This so called messiah has more than likely been using medicinal concoctions on a few gullible followers, and then hiring greedy fools to act as though they were possessed.”

    The next scene:

    “The sun had just crossed its highest point in the sky when he arrived in Magdala. He hurried as swiftly as he could through the streets. Thankfully, it wasn’t too crowded, so it didn’t take long before he reached the shop he needed. It was one of the closest towns to his home of Capernaum that he could get a new potters wheel from. When he arrived however, he saw no sign of the owner, Tamid. Swallowing his frustration, he headed for Tamid’s house.”

    Similar to scenes I’ve already mentioned, if you slow down, stay in the moment, and describe what Ariav is seeing and thinking, the scene will really come to life. What is the marketplace like? What does it smell like? What does it sound like? Is he bumping into people, or are the streets empty enough for him to walk normally? What is he thinking about?

    Then, at the end of the paragraph you say he headed for Tamid’s house, but you start the next paragraph by saying “After knocking on the door several times…” How long did it take him to get there? Again, we’re being teleported in a slightly disorienting manner. You don’t need to draw things out, but just a few sentences can really help smooth scenes over nicely. This whole section can be another opportunity to attach the reader to Ariav and see what he is thinking and doing, rather than just describing the steps that he took.

    Finally, the last scene that I want to mention:

    “Tamid nodded in thanks before closing the door. Ariav trudged back to his cart and began to lead his donkey home. He’d planned to be back home with a new wheel by midday. Now he’d have to make an additional trip. At least he’d left early in the morning. Korazin was a mere two miles from his home in Capernaum. He could easily make it there and back before nightfall.

    As he entered the city however, he began to wonder if some unseen force were conspiring against him.”

    Again, Korazin is presumably a decent distance away, but we suddenly teleport there. I’ve already mentioned this before, so I won’t go into any more detail. The only other thing that I wanted to point out is that you say that he had left early in the morning and that he had hoped to be back home by midday, but earlier you said that the sun was reaching its highest point when he entered the city, which would presumably already be midday.

    Anyway, sorry for the long post. And again, I really enjoyed reading your piece and I really think you are a talented writer. I know I wrote a lot, but this is all just about slightly changing your approach. You really don’t have to change much at all, so I hope this is encouraging to you and not discouraging. Also, I’ve found that the more familiar you become with your characters, the easier all of this stuff becomes. You really start seeing the world through their eyes, so you naturally begin writing more and more through their eyes.

    Ugh, I keep rambling! Sorry! I seriously need sleep… May God bless you and strengthen you as you work to serve him and to show his light to those in the darkness. As long as you keep your passion pointed towards him, He will guide you wherever he wants you to go, both in your life and your writing.

    All the best, Luke

    (Also, let me know if you disagree about anything! I’ll be the first to admit that I’m still learning and that I could be completely wrong about something, and I apologize if that is the case! Now I really am going to sleep.)

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  4. Thank you very much Luke! I really appreciate the detail and the length of your comment actually, because it gives me an idea what to work on. So thank you! I wanted to address a few of your points.

    Most importantly, I want to mention that this story is intended to be very short, maybe 20,000 words. Possibly even as little as 15k or less. So there’s times when I don’t put a lot of detail or expand too much in areas because I would like to keep in brief. Ideally, I picture publishing this along with several other short stories in a sort of devotional book or collection. I don’t really want it to be a long multi chapter novel.

    However, I definitely see your point about some sections being a little jarring, especially that beginning part with the two hour timeskip. I’ll definitely try to use that part to expand a little on what’s happening in his head.
    I do agree about expanding more detail or transition in a few places. However, for some parts, I very intentionally left it short. Like the trip between cities, I put nothing because very little happens except just him walking through the desert basically. So I skipped that whole thing because I didn’t want to place unnecessary dialogue, especially since this is supposed to be a short read, hopefully in one sitting, maybe two.

    The sentence when Ariav is talking about “the messiah” is wrote like that because I feel it fit his mood and character. He’s a potter (I hope this was clear through context clues. if not, let me know), and he’s not a very wordy man. He’s more gruff, so to speak. He’s also very skeptical at this point, so I wanted to show how he’s just brushing of his brother and not paying much attention.

    You also mentioned about describing the city more. I chose not to because I wanted to keep things short, like I mentioned. I am not sure how much detail I want to go into, especially since this moment is not a significant plot point. Ariav has been here before, so he’s not really taking in the sights much. Second, I don’t want to slow the pace here, because this section of the story is not the focus. If I put a lot of description, I think readers might take pause here as well, when I am really trying to move along to show why he is at Korazin instead of Magdala, and so readers can see a little bit of his frustration at having to go back and forth.

    As for that part about passage of time, that’s my bad. I did research travel times, but I must have miswrote that bit, so thank you for bringing that to my attention!

    Thank you again for everything! I definitely agree with your point about smoothing things over, and I’ll work on that for sure. However, this story is intended to be more like slices of life. So it will jump forward a lot as Ariav has further encounters with Jesus, and I don’t have a lot of room to explain in between things a lot. The main part of Jesus ministry took place over three years, so I imagine there will be times when significant lengths a time will go by.

    Once again, thank you very much! You’ve given me a lot to think about, I really appreciate your input!

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    • Ok, I guess I just assumed that you intended this as a full length novel. My bad! I’m pretty bad at writing short stories, because I tend do not be able to get through scenes quickly enough, but if I had known this was a short story I probably would have left off several suggestions. I also think that if I sat down to read it as a short story in one sitting then some of the things that threw me off a little would not have seemed jarring, because I would have expected a much faster paced read. This would be especially true where he jumps from one city to the next, which makes sense now that I know the context.

      My only suggestion now would be to not underestimate how much one or two extra lines of description, especially sensory input, and internal dialogue can really bring a reader into the story.

      Anyway, I apologize that my post was a bit misguided, and I hope you are able to finish your collection of short stories. I would love to read it sometime!

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  5. I apologize for my delay critiquing this. I have been on the road. I will try to get to it in the next few days.

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  6. Natasha,

    I like how you keep your POV character active and with a purpose at all times. Good job.

    I had some trouble seeing what your character sees. I felt a bit blinded. I know you mean for this story to be short, but just a couple of extra details will help a lot, especially if you use some quality words that will help readers fill in the gaps. By quality words, I mean like “crumbling,” which you used to great effect to help readers understand that basic conditions of the place.

    Also, be careful about your use of participles, both in overusing them and in timing. Usually it’s best to have the participle phrase occur at the same time as the main verb phrase.

    In most cases, when you use a participle form of a verb (usually an “ing” form of the verb), you are describing an action that happens at the same time as the main verb in the sentence. For example, “Glaring at the coiled snake, she curled her hand around the sword’s hilt.” The glaring happens at the same time as the curling, so this construction works. But the following doesn’t work: “He opened the door, running from the room like a madman.” He can’t run from the room until after he opens the door. These two actions cannot occur at the same time, so the sentence needs to be rephrased, maybe like this: “He opened the door and ran from the room like a madman.”

    I made some edits and added a few comments to your piece – http://www.daviscrossing.com/Critiques%20April%2021%202017.doc

    Please let me know if you have any questions.

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    • Thank you very much! I’ll be sure to clear up those errors, and add a bit more descriptors, since it’s very sparse. I have a better idea where to go from here now. Thank you again!

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  7. Wow i loved it so much!!! it is so vivid and i love the story idea. its a cool way of showing what different perspectives people would have in Jesus’s time and how they would react. also what life was like and that they were just human like us and how you showed the similarities and helped the audience connect. a couple things that might help are one like Luke Frost said is if you added a concept of time when Ariav arrive at Tamid’s house. another one is when talking about how Ariav has to wait for a wheel from Tamid the “r” on your was missing. in general the end of it could use more description. other than that i loved how you added the geographical details to help the concept of scenery and placement. this is a really good start and i would love to read the rest of the story.

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