Critique Group – Insanity

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Insanity – by Becca

The snow was falling, covering the ground.  I knew that immediately.  But there was something different about it, something dark.  Up ahead, I began to see the flickers of light that symbolised civilization.  I walked faster, almost jogging, and stopped just short of the circle that the flames cast.  The village that I had grown up in was on fire.  I could hear people screaming and trying to escape, but I couldn’t see anybody.  I stepped forward, into the light–and stopped.  There was a hidden barrier that I couldn’t see, something that was blocking me.  Panicking, I began to run next to the blockage, trying to find some way into my hometown.  But there wasn’t one.  I ran back to where I had first felt the barrier and began probing for weaknesses, spots that I could break.  A shout caught my attention, and I looked up.  There was a man running towards me, a man I knew.

“Anya!  Run!  You have to run, you aren’t safe here!  They’re after you, because of what you told me.  Please, go home.  Now!”

I fell to my knees.  “Daniel…who are they?  Can’t I save you?  Is there anything I can do?”

He shook his head.  “No.  You can’t fight them.  It’s too late for us, they’ve already marked us.”  He lifted his hand and placed it on the barrier.  I gasped at what marred his skin.  An ugly spiral, red and oozing, had been burned into his flesh.

“No…it can’t be them.  It can’t be.  How did they find me?”

“I don’t know, Anya.  But you have to leave now.  Go!”  He looked over his shoulder.  In the distance, I could see huge, hulking shapes look our way and start to lumber towards us.  “Listen, Anya.  They won’t kill me.  I’m young and strong.  They’ll put me to work in the mines.  But you…you’re the one who they want.  Please, save yourself.  For me, if not for you.”

I shakily nodded, and placed my hand on the barrier, covering his.  “For you, Daniel.  But I’ll find you.  I promise.”

His hand curled and flexed, then straightened out again.  “Anya…I love you.”  He whipped his head around again and stood up.  “Now go!  Go home!”  I stumbled backwards and, with one final glance towards him, ran towards the woods.  Stopping just before I went out of earshot, I whispered into his mind, “I love you too.”  I looked at Daniel, fixing the image of him standing strong with his sword drawn firmly in my mind.  I wanted that to be the last image I saw of him before I left.  I saw him ripple his shoulders in response to my whisper, ready to fight, ready to hold off those creatures so that I could leave safely.  Taking one step backwards into the shadow of the woods, I closed my eyes and focused on my home, in the world where I had been born.


I opened my eyes to the sound of rain in Gig Harbor, Washington.  I sat up from where I had fallen on my bed, and my book fell onto my lap.  Picking it up, I looked at the title again.  Dark Angels.  I sighed and put the book on my bedside table, my fingers lingering over the face on the front of the cover.  I would go back.  I would save him.

A voice startled me out of my reverie.  “Anya? I’m going to the store, do you need anything?”

“No Mom, I’m good!  Thanks though!”

Mom called a goodbye, and I slumped down on my bed.  I risked a glance at the book again, but knew opening it and going back in wouldn’t help anybody.  I would just have live the story all over again.  Ugh.  I swung my legs over my bed and grabbed my backpack, planning on doing homework to take my mind off of Daniel.  I walked downstairs and plopped down at the dining table, digging through my backpack to find my Spanish homework.  Ten minutes later, after trying and failing to focus on the preterite case in Spanish, I gave up.  I ran back upstairs and grabbed my phone, typing my password to log in.  I needed to talk to somebody who could partially understand what I was going through, who wouldn’t think I was crazy.  I texted my best friend, Olivia, “When you’re free, I need to talk.  It happened again.”  I put the phone down and put my head in my hands.  Olivia was probably at paddling practice.  She wouldn’t respond for a while.  Maybe Casey?  I’ve talked to him before about this..except this time, it’s mostly about Daniel.  That could be awkward.  And he still thinks it’s all a series of weird dreams I’ve been having.  What happens if I tell him the truth?  I rubbed my eyes in frustration.  Why did it all have to be so complicated?  I was startled by my phone ringing.  I looked at the caller ID.  It was Olivia.  I took a deep breath and answered her call.

“Hey Livia.”

“Anya.  What’s up?  Are you alright?  What was it this time?”

“I’m fine.  It was just…it was that book.  Dark Angels.  And I saw him again.”

“You read it again?  But you know what happened last time!  Just because you changed some parts doesn’t mean the ending is gonna be different.  Anya, you’ve got to stop.  It’s not healthy.”

I was silent.  Then I heard her take a breath.  “OK.  I’m coming over.  We’ll go out to coffee or something.  I’m guessing the rest of your family is home?”

“Yeah…mostly.  Ivan is still at school.  My mom just left to go shopping.  But shouldn’t you be at practice?”

“Nah, we just finished loading the boats for this weekend.  Anyway, I’ll be there in ten.  Get ready.”

I sighed.  “Ok.  I’ll be at the bottom of the driveway.  Bye.”

“See ya soon, Anya!”  The phone clicked, and I was left alone to put my backpack away and grab my purse.


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7 replies

  1. This is an exciting start to your intriguing story. I think it will be fascinating.

    Let’s work on some details.

    The first paragraph contains seven uses of “was” and multiple narrator phrases that weaken the intimacy of the point of view, such as “I knew,, “I began to see,” and “I could hear.”

    When you report something the character knows, you don’t have to tell that she knows it. When you report something the character sees or hears, you don’t have to report that the character sees or hears it. Just report it. Readers will realize the character knows, sees, or hears it. Otherwise, it sounds like a narrator is relating the actions.

    Also, I would like to see you set the scene a bit more. Was she in a forest? A rocky desert? And how did she know there was a barrier if it was invisible?

    In addition, I wasn’t sure who yelled “Anya!” because you separated the dialogue from the man’s shout. And I think he wouldn’t say so much during this time of crisis.

    Here is a rewrite, eliminating most of the uses of “was” as well as the narrator phrases.
    Falling snow cast a blurring curtain as I walked along the forest path toward home. Prickles rode along my skin but not from the cold air. Something was wrong … darkness … danger. I broke into a run, kicking snow and leaping over fallen branches. Ahead, lights flickered in a nebulous circle. As I closed in, the lights morphed into flames—huts on fire, an inferno consuming my village.

    I slammed into an invisible barrier and bounced back. Now dizzied, I ran alongside the barrier, feeling for a breach but finding nothing. I rushed back to the path and probed the barrier for a weakness. Someone I had to break through.

    Someone shouted. A familiar man burst from the flames and ran toward me. “Anya! Run! You aren’t safe here!”
    Other tidbits:

    “I gasped at what marred his skin. An ugly spiral, red and oozing, had been burned into his flesh.”

    You reported her reaction before the reason for her reaction. Put the events in the right order.

    “I could see huge, hulking shapes looking our way …”

    “I could see” is a narrator phrase. Change to “Huge, hulking shapes looked our way …”

    “I saw him ripple his shoulders …”

    “I saw” is a narrator phrase. Change to “He rippled his shoulders …”

    Search for other phrases like this, and try to eliminate the “was” verb phrases where you can.

    I enjoyed the sudden transition to the contemporary scene. This makes for an intriguing story.

    I apologize, but this is all I have time for. I think you have a great story forming. Keep up the good work.

  2. Whoa! I love how you wrote this, Becca! Great job! 😀
    I loved the hints you dropped without info dumping and how you described what was going on so we wouldn’t get lost in the action. 🙂
    A girl traveling into a book sounds so Cool! X} (I want to write a book like that someday. ^_^)
    Keep up the great work! I look forward to reading more from you! 😀

  3. Rebecca,

    This is a very intriguing start to a cool story. A few things that snagged me were the dialogue between Anya and the man. Her village is on fire, he’s running for his life, and she is in danger, but the dialogue doesn’t really imply that (at least that’s how I read it). For example, when she says, “Daniel…who are they? Can’t I save you? Is there anything I can do?” it doesn’t fit with the setting and issue. Imagine if you were in this kind of situation, what would you say? I’d probably react by saying, “Daniel, what’s happening? Where is everyone?” Write you dialogue like you would say it in a similar situation.

    Another thing that will help with “show, don’t tell” (favorite phrase of my Dad’s) is when Daniel says, “No. You can’t fight them. It’s too late for us, they’ve already marked us.” I wouldn’t include the last sentence because the brand he shows her in the next few sentences shows that he is marked.

    Out of curiosity, are you having this girl be able to enter books/stories? If so, can she enter any story or is it just this one?

    Can’t wait for more!!!

  4. Wow, Becca! This might be the best entry I have read so far! Being able to enter a book? I try to do that with my own characters, but not like this. This is just awesome. I want to steal that idea, but my conscience vexes me. I can’t wait to read more!

    That being said, there were a few things I noticed.
    – The paragraph where she texts Olivia was kind of long, so you might want to separate it into two paragraphs.
    – How old is Anya? At first, I was thinking about 14, but as I got closer to the end, it seemed like she was closer to 19. Because I try to picture everything I read, I’m not quite sure how to draw any of the characters in my mind. Maybe at the beginning, you can say something like, “I walked faster, almost jogging. What was going on? My long auburn hair fell in front of my eyes and I pulled it back with a quick swipe. I reached my village and stopped just short of the circle that the flames cast.”
    Or with Daniel: “A shout caught my attention, and I looked up. There was a man running towards me, a man I knew.
    ‘Anya! Run! You have to run, you aren’t safe here! They’re after you, because of what you told me. Please, go home. Now!’ He stopped just short of the barrier, his muscular arms bulging as he grasped the hilt of a sword.” Also, when Anya runs toward the woods, it seems as though Daniel pulls a sword out of thin air. It wasn’t mentioned before that point.

    Just curious, when she whispers into Danny Boy’s noggin, is that a special power she has all the time or just in books (and if so is it only in a specific book or in any book)? If she can transmit thoughts, can she also receive them?

    Overall, wonderful book! Can’t wait for more.


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