Posted by: Kathy Temean | September 28, 2012

Free Fall Friday – Critique Results – Lindsey Alexander

Untitled by Pam Corr

Will had wanted to go into his grandmother’s attic by himself since he was a little boy, but now that he was eight years old, she said OK. She specifically told him not to touch anything. “Just look around”.

After a few hours of snooping and only touching a little, blowing away dust and looking at a really old train set, he saw a curious looking big book tucked behind some boxes. Someone had drawn a Frankenstein-looking monster on the cover with crayons.

He couldn’t restrain himself. Cracking it open just a little, he found it was a picture album, a really old one with black and white photos.

Hiding in a corner where his grandmother couldn’t see him if she tiptoed up the stairs, he opened it to the first page. It read “Timmy, 1922 – 1928”. Below the name and dates was a picture of a 2-headed infant in a christening gown.

He slammed it shut. He kind of remembered his mom mentioning she had a baby brother who died when he was just a baby. That would make him OUR UNCLE TIM!

He couldn’t keep this to himself. Hiding it under his bed, he waited to show Sammy after all the lights in the house were out. As they turned the pages, and the boy grew bigger, so did his heads. By the time they got to the last page, Spot was alarmed by the scary sounds the kids were making.

Here’s Lindsey:

Untitled by Pam Corr

Will had wanted to go into his grandmother’s attic by himself since he was a little boy, and now that he was eight years old, she finally said OK.<What is he so curious about? Why wouldn’t grandmother let him go up there earlier?> She specifically told him not to touch anything. “Just look around.”

     After a few hours of snooping and only touching a little,<A few hours seems like a long time for an eight-year-old kid to wander around an attic alone. What’s he looking for? Does his grandmother get suspicious and check up on him?> blowing away dust and looking at a really old train set, he saw a big curious-looking book tucked behind some boxes. Someone had drawn a Frankenstein-like monster on the cover with crayons.

     He couldn’t restrain himself. Cracking it open just a little, he found it was a picture album, a really old one with black-and-white photos.

     Hiding in a corner where his grandmother couldn’t see him if she tiptoed up the stairs, he opened it to the first page. It read, “Timmy, 1922 – 1928”. Below the name and dates was a picture of a two-headed infant in a christening gown.<More detail here about the scene and what Timmy looks like would be great.>

     He slammed the album shut. He kind of remembered his mom mentioning she had a baby brother who died when he was just a baby. That would make him OUR UNCLE TIM!<Great Uncle Tim? If the story takes place today, Uncle Tim would be quite a bit older than Will.>

     He couldn’t keep this to himself. That night, he waited to show Sammy after all the lights in the house were out. As they hid under his blankets and turned the pages, and the boy grew bigger, so did his heads.<As in, maybe mom was wrong about him dying as a baby?> By the time they got to the last page, Spot was alarmed by the scary sounds the kids were making.<What kind of scary sounds? Monster noises?>

<The image of a long-lost two-headed uncle is funny and offbeat, and could serve as the catalyst for a terrific adventure. In your opening pages, Will’s curiosity about the attic could be clarified a bit. What’s he looking for up there? What about it piques his interest so much? Does he get the feeling grandma is hiding something from him? Does he have to dodge her to smuggle the photo album back to his room? (Does he live with his grandma? Is Sammy his sister?) You might consider how to make Will’s curiosity about his family history the motor of the story, rather than him lucking upon the photo album by chance. To spend a few hours in the attic, he must be on the hunt for something, right? So what has he heard or inferred that makes him so determined?>

____________________________________________________________________________

UNTITLED by Dawn Mitchel

The hurricane neared, the winds howled as if in pain.  I fought to free myself from Maya’s grip.  Wet sand pelted my face, clogging my nose and throat.  I looked around for a seashell or branch.  Not that I knew what I would do if I found either of them.  My eyes stung from a mixture of the salty sea water and a steady flow of tears.

I never thought about Maya, my shy best friend, who wouldn’t even kill a fruit fly, hurting anyone.  I especially didn’t think she would ever hurt me.  At 5 feet, 2 inches and 113 pounds, Maya was smaller in height, weight and attitude.  Any other time, any other place, I might not have been afraid, but just like the hurricane winds something had shifted.

“Please don’t make me hurt you Em,” she pleaded.

Her bony fingers tightened around a fistful of my hair.  This had to be a bad dream.  In a few minutes I’d wake up in bed, the scary image of my angry best friend and an even angrier ocean, a foggy memory.

A large wave knocked us both to the ground, freeing my hair from Maya’s grip.   The stronger runner, I made it back to my feet and took off toward the boardwalk.  Maya was right on my tail.  I pumped my legs willing them to go faster, my bare feet sinking deep into the sand.  At some point I had lost both of my shoes.  I made the mistake of looking back and screamed as she sacked me from behind.

“Give me the Terces stone now!” she yelled.

The ocean seemed to roar in response behind her.  I rolled over and clawed at Maya’s face, feeling my nails sink into her eyes.  She fell to her knees in pain.  I stood up and turned to run but froze when I noticed a monster wave heading right for us.

“Maya, get up, we have to go now!”

I tried to help her up from the sand.

“Don’t you understand Em?  I need that stone or I’m as good as dead.  I’m too deep into this thing to get out.”

Here’s Lindsey:

Dawn Mitchel – UNTITLED

               As the hurricane neared, I fought to free myself from Maya’s grip.<Involve protagonist in opening line via action>  Wet sand pelted my face, clogging my nose and throat.  My eyes stung from a mixture of the salty seawater and a steady flow of tears. I looked around for something to fight back with. <Tension and stress level need to be higher. Consider how to make language, line by line, more impactful.><Tell us where they are right off the bat. On a boat? On a dock? On land?>

               I never thought Maya, my shy best friend who wouldn’t even kill a fruit fly, would hurt anyone.<Make language more direct here.>  I especially didn’t think she would ever hurt me.  At 5 feet, 2 inches and 113 pounds, Maya was smaller than me in height, weight, and attitude.<Maybe something more figurative than specific about Maya’s size would be better. The height/weight detail feels a little tedious, and doesn’t tell us that much about their relative size.>  Any other time, in any other place, I might not have been afraid of her, but just like the hurricane winds, something in her had shifted. 

               “Please don’t make me hurt you, Em,” she pleaded. 

Her bony fingers tightened around a fistful of my hair.  This had to be a bad dream.  In a few minutes I’d wake up in bed, and the scary image of my angry best friend and an even angrier ocean would be a foggy memory.

A large wave knocked us both to the ground,<Are they on a beach?> freeing my hair from Maya’s grip.   The stronger runner, I made it back to my feet and took off toward the boardwalk.  Maya was right on my tail.  I pumped my legs willing them to go faster, my bare feet sinking deep into the sand.  At some point I had lost both of my shoes.  I made the mistake of looking back and screamed as she sacked me from behind. 

               “Give me the Terces stone now!” she yelled. 

               The ocean seemed to roar in response behind her.  I rolled over and clawed at Maya’s face, feeling my nails sink into her eyes.  She fell to her knees in pain.  I stood up and turned to run but froze when I noticed a monster wave heading right for us. 

               “Maya, get up, we have to go now!” 

               I tried to help her up from the sand. 

               “Don’t you understand Em?  I need that stone or I’m as good as dead.  I’m too deep into this thing to get out.”

<I like how you jump right into the middle of the action, and you seed this opening page with a number of mysteries for the reader to discover as they move ahead: What happened to Em? What’s the Terces stone? How are they going to escape the hurricane? There’s a lot going on here all at once, which heightens the sense of tension, and your dialogue is very energetic. I’d consider how to make the language more direct in order to make the action more impactful. Don’t forget to locate the reader right off the bat. For several paragraphs, I didn’t know where I was. Without stepping out of the present scene, you might give us a line or two of background about how they wound up in the middle of a hurricane. You want the reader to be curious, but not clueless.>

______________________________________________________________________

Untitled – Wendy Greenley

I smell him before I see him. Then—ack!—I feel his hot breath on my hand.

Dora and Circe are in la-la land, caught up with the monster in their book.  If they looked up a minute, they’d see the real monster creeping under the side of the tent. Of course, they don’t think he’s a monster.

They say he’s part poodle, part Louisiana Catahoula Leopard dog. They named him “Doogie.” It’s a cute name for a dog that would as soon eat my arm off as say hello. But when he looks at the girls, he gives them big puppy eyes and wags his tail and looks as sweet as the homemade jam that Dora, that’s the one with curls, likes to slather on her toast. They haven’t seen the danger.

Last week, Circe left me on the bedroom floor while she went in for her bath. Sure enough, it was only a matter of minutes before the beast was on me. He opened his fiendish jaws and before I had a chance to scream  I was slobber from my neck to my knees.  It was cold that night and Dora had dressed me in my fuzzy coat with matching hand muff. I couldn’t even get one hand out in time to fend the beast off.

There is some justice in the world, however, because when Dora saw Doogie running down the hall with his prize, she yelled “Drop it!” Doogie was so startled he did what he was told, for a change. When he spit me out, half of the fur from my coat was caught in his teeth and he choked and wheezed for an hour. Circe felt sorry for him but Dora, well she’s my hero. She frowned at Doogie and sent him to his bed.

But I don’t think Dora’s going to be my hero tonight. The only one who hears me is Tedd. And although I’m getting plenty of sympathy from him, he’s too timid to help me.

Doogie checks the girls one last time. I’m a goner.

Here’s Lindsey:

Untitled – Wendy Greenley 

               I smell him before I see him. Then—ack!—I feel his hot breath on my hand.

Dora and Circe are in la-la land, caught up with the monster in their book.  If they looked up a minute, they’d see the real monster creeping under the side of the tent. Of course, they don’t think he’s a monster.

               They<“They” meaning the kids or their parents? This is a mouthful.> say he’s part poodle, part Louisiana Catahoula Leopard dog. They named him Doogie. It’s a cute name for a dog that would just as soon eat my arm off as say hello<Perhaps this should be a more dog-like action than “say hello”?>. But when he looks at the girls, he gives them big puppy eyes and wags his tail and looks as sweet as the homemade jam that Dora—that’s the one with curls—likes to slather on her toast.<Great way of combining sensory detail and characterization.>

               Last week, Circe left me on the bedroom floor while she went in for her bath.<Does the doll have a name? Is she Circe’s or Dora’s?> Sure enough, within moments the beast was upon me.<Add a bit of immediacy here.> He opened his fiendish jaws and before I had a chance to scream.  I was slobbered on from my neck to my knees.<Add action that the dog picks her up? Dora tells him below to drop the doll.>  It was cold that night and Dora had dressed me in my fuzzy coat with matching muff. I couldn’t even get one hand out in time to fend off the beast.

               There is some justice in the world, however, because when Dora saw Doogie running down the hall with his prize, she yelled, “Drop it!”<This could be a good place to introduce doll’s name and show how much Dora cares about her.> Doogie was so startled he did what he was told for a change. When he spit me out, half of the fur from my coat was caught in his teeth, and he choked and wheezed for an hour. Circe felt sorry for him, but Dora, well she’s my hero. She frowned at Doogie and sent him to his bed.

               But I don’t think Dora’s going to be my hero tonight. The only one who hears me is Tedd.<Hears her say something? What does she say?> And although I’m getting plenty of sympathy from him,<Because they’re in the same boat? Doogie picks on Tedd, too?> he’s too timid to help me.

Doogie glances over at the girls one last time. I’m a goner.

<The writing here is, for the most part, clear and descriptive, and the sense of an imminent attack by the dog is a consistent current. I’d consider how to make the doll’s personality and character more distinctive through how she speaks and thinks. Her name might tell us something about who she is, as would a bit more detail about her relationship with Circe and Dora. Does she belong to one more than the other? Does she like being dressed up in fancy winter clothes? The way she speaks and her choice of words could tell me more about how old she is, where she’s from, what her preferences and dislikes are, if she’s going to hatch a plan to deter Doogie once and for all. You want the reader to stick with a character from page one through the end of your story, so make sure you give them someone lively and original to latch on to here.>

___________________________________________________________________

A Very Dark Story  by Don Nelson

“This is a very scary story. Are you sure you want me to read it to you?”

Mary Beth replied. “I’m not scared of that silly story of yours but I have an idea. Why don’t you let me read it to you?”

Robbie had read the story several times so he handed the book to her and said,” I’ll hold the flash light for you. You know if you get too scared, you can just stop reading.”

“I told you. One of your silly stories isn’t going to scare me.”

Mary Beth started reading, “The old house had been vacant for years and the neighbor kids had all agreed it was haunted by the people who had died there. One night, on Halloween, the kids decided to explore the house after dark. Each one had a flashlight and the youngest kid, a boy scout was extra prepared and brought along extra batteries.”

“Are you scared yet?” Robbie said and tickled his sister.

“Of course not, now let me keep reading. The door creaked as they pushed it open. Inside it was as dark as a black bear in a forest at midnight on a moonless night. The door banged closed behind them and all their flashlights went out at the same time.”

The homemade tent went dark as well. Their dog Cody, ran back into the house.

“Okay smarty pants. Turn the flashlight back on.”

“I didn’t turn it off. It went off on it’s own.”

“Sure it did. Just like in the story. You’re trying to scare me. Now turn it back on”

“I didn’t turn it off. Here, you try and get it to work.”

It didn’t go on, and just like in the story, the moaning began . . . .

Here’s Lindsey:

A Very Dark Story  by Don Nelson

 

               “This is a very scary story,” Robbie said. “Are you sure you want me to read it to you?”

               Mary Beth replied., “I’m not scared of that silly story of yours, but I have an idea. Why don’t you let me read it to you?”<What does Mary Beth think reading it herself will do? Make her feel less scared?>

               Robbie had read the story several times so he handed the book to her and said,” I’ll hold the flashlight for you. You know if you get too scared, you can just stop reading.”

               “I told you. One of your silly stories isn’t going to scare me.”

               Mary Beth started reading, “The old house had been vacant for years and the neighbor kids had all agreed it was haunted by the people who had died there. One Halloween night, the kids decided to explore the house after dark. Each one had a flashlight, and the youngest kid, a boy scout, was extra prepared and brought along extra batteries.”<What is the boy scout prepared for? Additional sensory details of the house and what the kids are afraid they might find there would be great.>

               “Are you scared yet?” Robbie said and tickled his sister.

               “Of course not.” She continued reading. “The door creaked as they pushed it open. Inside it was as dark as a black bear in a forest at midnight on a moonless night.<Can they see anything? Is it cold? Does it smell funny?> Suddenly, the door banged closed behind them and all their flashlights went out at the same time.”

               The homemade tent went dark as well. Their dog, Cody, ran back into the house.<We need to know earlier that they’re in the yard.>

               “Okay smarty pants,” Mary Beth said. “Turn the flashlight back on.”

               “I didn’t turn it off. It went off on its own.”

               “Sure it did. Just like in the story. You’re trying to scare me. Now turn it back on.”

               “I didn’t turn it off. Here, you try and get it to work.”

               But Mary Beth couldn’t, and just like in the story, the moaning began . . . .

<This is a playful, energetic opening to a scary story. I’d consider how you might work in a few more sensory details about the haunted house. What does it look like on the outside? What emboldens the kids to explore it on Halloween? Make sure to tell us right from the start that they’re camping out in the yard. Also, it’s not clear if Robbie has written this story to scare his sister or if he just has the book. Think about how to use perspective more strategically to show what the characters are thinking or feeling. The dialogue and action feel very expository, but don’t necessarily shed as much light on these characters, their relationship, and their worries as they could. The line about Robbie tickling his sister shows us his good-natured side—think about how to weave more of these kinds of details into the writing. You might play with writing the scene from one perspective or the other in the third-person close perspective just to see what pops out to you and how these two characters’ perspectives on their situations differ. >

Thank you Lindsey for sharing your expertise with us.  We really appreciate the time you put into helping us.

Lindsey Alexander is a Freelance Editorial Consultant.  You may have met Lindsey when she was an editor at HarperCollins.  She has collaborated on NYT best-sellers and multiple award winning books.  She has an MFA from New School University in NYC and studied copyediting, proofreading and brand communication.

Lindsey says, “I take a collaborative approach to the editing and writing process. Editing requires a sharp eye and knowledgeability, but it’s also an invitation to act as a bridge between an author’s intentions and a reader’s understanding. Does the reader’s experience of a text—factually, emotionally, or otherwise—correspond with the author’s objectives? By identifying where and how this correspondence could be strengthened, I work as an advocate for both writer and reader, communicating clearly, constructively, and tactfully. My goal is to ensure that a piece of writing reflects the best of an author’s ability but also maintains his or her unique voice and vision.”

http://www.lindsey-alexander.com/

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. Yet another interesting and educational Free Fall Friday! That’s the thing about reading—we get to peak into others’ imaginations 🙂

    Thank you, Lindsey and Kathy!

    Like


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