Sunday, October 20, 2013

Critiques #1

This is a new segment where I take a chapter or another piece of writing and review it. These are only my opinions, and I critique as I go in order to give as honest an opinion as possible. At the end, I give my final analysis. If you're interested in me critiquing your story, please email me with your contact information, request and pasted chapter to the body of the email. Please don't attach it unless I specifically ask for it as I do not know you personally.

Today's piece is Napoleon: The Captain from Fetching Figment by Yvone Williams. The book is titled THE HUNT FOR NAPOLEON'S JUSTICE.

Please enjoy the piece in its original form, offer your own critiques and correct any mistakes I may have made.

Before critiquing it, I ran it through Grammarly. Any mistakes that it pointed out or any thing that I see out of place, I highlighted with red. My critique is also written in red.

The Captain
As Constance emerged from the ship’s hold, a gale swept her hair over her eyes.
I like this opening. It has the POV (I’m guessing) character in motion, setting and a bit of character voice with the word choice.
My suggestion for this would be to give the reader a bit of her character description here. This is a good opportunity to sneak it in there. What color is here hair? What color are her eyes?
“Left,” a man called from the bow. “Pull left, you blind codger.”
She pushed her hair back and scanned the ship. Creedy was on the quaterdeck, yanking the wheel left. Normally, he would have severed that man’s tongue with a sharp reply, but he was silent now. Constance rushed to meet him.
It should be quarterdeck.
This feels a little bit awkward. I’d consider reworking it a little bit and giving it the Ear Test.
“Creedy, what’s happening?” she asked, lowering her head against the wind. She tightened her frock coat, the skirt whipping at her legs.
Since you use two of the same sentence structure back to back, both starting with She (past tense), I’d consider either flipping the last sentence—starting with the motion of the skirt—or changing the structure—remove the comma, insert the world while and change whipping to whipped.
“Lost your eyes to the wind, have you?” he asked. The irises of his eyes were clouded, and shifted toward her voice. “Make sure that piece of filth Pisador is still in the hold.”
There should not be a comma here.
“He’s there,” she said. But I had to untie him. Her gaze shied away from him, toward the wind, and over the main deck. Half of her crew was bunched around the mainmast. Overhead, men climbed up the ratlines. Above them, others recklessly hung from the crosstrees. Both groups fought to keep the wind-gashed top sail attached to its yard.
Personally, I’d use up. But if you are looking to trim it down, up is kind of redundant. I believe there should be a comma between wind-gashed and top as they both describe sail. Or hyphenate top and sail.
So far, I’m loving the tension and instant conflict of man versus nature here. It has my interest and draws me deeper into the story. Great character hooks. I find myself already sympathizing with Constance.
Constance left Creedy at his position, and climbed down to the main deck. A delicate-framed man struggled to pry the top main mast halyard from around the main stay. Another man, hunched and grey, stood beside him.
There should not be a comma here.
Mainmast should be one word here. Though, this sentence is a bit cluttered and hard to read. I’d go back and rework it.
Mainstay is one word.
“Why did no one reef the sails?” she asked.
“Because I’m not a sailor,” the slight one said, fighting the twisted ropes. “I’m a naturalist.” Luckily, Sanctuary did not care who did her trimming, so long as it was done– Creedy had said as much, and his words had yet to fail her.
Not really sure what you are trying to say with the tight POV. Though, I do believe you should purify the dialogue and move it to its own paragraph.
“Angel Shades, Rosy Underwings… my interest is in moths. Not rope, not sails, not ships,” he said, shaking the rope.
I really like this. A good show of character.
“Stop.” Constance frowned; the tangled lines were beginning to fray.
I feel like this should be an exclamation point.
“Just a doctor, myself,” the old man said with a shrug.
“Well.” Constance slid her trembling hands into pockets. “I advise you get your doctoring tools ready. You might have a chance to prove it.”
“Chance?” He trailed her as she turned away. “You’re the captain. Why can’t you fix this? It’s your responsibility; None of us asked to be here.” She tried to ignore him as she walked. All she wanted was a moment alone. A single moment to think.
I’m not sure what motion you are going for with, “He trailed her.” It doesn’t really make much sense since she isn’t moving yet, and you have her turn away while he trailed her. Maybe, “He approached her,” would fit better?
I’d consider using a ‘Harder Time” word. “As” is a bit ambiguous as far as time goes. Use a bit more concrete language like (while/when/before/after/once/ect). Here, I’d suggest once and adding a step to her motion so that “trailed her” makes more sense.
You used a semi-colon here, and thus it shouldn’t be capitalized.
Purify the dialogue. Move her thoughts and actions to their own paragraph.
I’d consider while instead of the second as.
Save the stays and you’ll save the ship. But how?
“It won’t unravel itself, you know,” the naturalist called after her.
“Christ’s sake,” Creedy said. “Just cut the damn thing. We can afford to lose one sail if we’re as close as it sounds.”
Constance moved starboard to look beyond the sails. He was right; The frost-covered ground seemed to wink and coax the sun from behind the clouds. They were less than 20 minutes away.
You used a semi-colon here, and thus it shouldn’t be capitalized.
Great show of character here, allowing the reader to know some of her strengths. Good character voice too in your word choice.
“Cut the halyard,” she said, and let the wind sweep her away. Somewhere, beneath the sheets of ice, laid her happiness.
Not sure what you mean here. This seems to come out of the blue. What ice?
As her eyes roamed, she could barely see where the clipped, icy shore began, or where the horizon ended. It was all a blur of white, and mountain ridges were only visible due to the shadows they cast. Constance took her pendant in hand, fingers running along the gilt. Soon, its small, arcane marks would lead her to la vara de centurias– the Rod of Centuries– and then… then, she would restore everything.
This is a really awkward read. I’d consider breaking the whole first sentence apart and reworking it.
Good descriptions after the first sentence and great show of character motivations. After going back to reread the last paragraph, I still feel that one line is out of place. I’d consider moving it or rewording it.
“Easy,” a voice warned. Constance froze. Bernard was supposed to stay in the hold– that was part of the agreement. If Creedy heard his voice…
Move this to its own paragraph to purify the dialogue.
If she’s the captain, then what is Creedy? Is he higher ranked than her? Or just an advisor? If he’s higher ranked than her, I’d consider tagging his rank when you first introduce him above.
“You go easy,” the moth man replied, sawing away at the rope. “I’d like to get off this forlorn boat sometime soon.”
This line doesn’t really make any sense. I know Bernard said easy earlier, but it was following her line of cut the ropes—although that felt like ages ago with that long description above it.
I’d cut this said-book-ism as it is shown through the dialogue in that he actually replies; thus it is a double tell.
Overall, the dialogue here feels disjointed and unrelated to the situation at hand.
Constance looked at the line being cut, following its spiral trail to the height of the main mast… The main mast. He was cutting the main stay, and the halyard was already frayed.
Mainmast once again one word. Twice.
Mainstay is one word.
I’d consider reworking this a bit. Especially the first sentence since it feels like there should be more tension here. My suggestion: Constance blinked as she glanced at the line being cut. With her mouth slowly gaping open, she followed its spiral trail to the height of the mainmast. Her heart thumped. The mainmast!
“…Is that Bernard?” Creedy called out.
“Bernardo,” the Pisador yelled back.
“Wait!” She stretched out a hand, but it was too late.
Great exchange here, though I’d consider cutting the said-book-isms.
The top stay snapped and shot up to the sky, taking the halyard with it. The mast groaned as it leaned forward. The crew fled starboard and port. Looming sails cast a shadow over the ship as the mast aimed for the quarterdeck– for Creedy.
I’d consider using while here.
Her limbs felt as stable as a ribbon in a breeze.
I’d consider using a different word here since you use stable a few paragraphs down. Maybe firm or unwavering. You may want to use Word Hippo here.
The mast slammed beside him, all 400 pounds of it ripping through the main deck and shoving the stern into the dark, glacial waters. Her breath escaped her as the deck slipped from under her feet. The prow reached for the sky, its angelic figurehead ready for flight.
I’d consider using when here.
Great action in this sequence. Good imagery and easy to follow.
Her body slammed flat against the wood. As she slid toward the quarterdeck, the canopy of sails provided a funeral shroud. Her hands slapped against the deck, searching. They found a loose line of rigging and seized it.
I’d consider using while here.
A funeral shroud for what? Her? The boat? Not really clear since she is the one in action in the first part of this sentence.
The rope blazed through her grip, searing a path down her palm. She gripped it tighter, hissing through her teeth, until she jerked to a stop.
I’d consider using squeezed here to avoid the grip echo. Word Hippo if your friend!
There should not be a comma here.
A handful of men tumbled down the deck. They hit the side of the quarterdeck, and rolled off into the dark sea. Constance gripped the rope tight and looked away; the rest of the crew clung to shrouds, the fallen mast, anything.
There should not be a comma here.
I’d consider using clutched here to avoid the grip echo above. If you use clutched, you could cut tight and avoid the tight echo.
Great obstacle for the character.
“Creedy?” she called, but there was no reply.
She closed her eyes, fighting back tears. Creedy had been the only stable thing in her life for the past five years.
First my parents. Then Pilar. Now, Creedy. I can’t do this alone. Tears slipped past her chin. She could feel the stern slowly rising, leveling the ship, but she was lost without that blind drunkard.
“Hey. Little girl. Stop crying already,” Bernard said from above, a fallen line coiled around his limbs.
“Go to hell, Bernard,” she said.
“It’s Bernardo. Bernar-do.”
It feels like there should be another hyphen here for how he sounds out his name.
I’m loving the inner conflict, show of character background, inner conflict and the back-and-forth. Really good pace here and helps to keep me locked into her character.
Constance looked away. What did he know of loyalty? Pilar once told her that every Pisador had a clan: Bernard had none. She pressed her head against the rope, overwhelmed. Bernard cared for no one but himself, and now she was stuck with him.
“Constance,” a voice called from below.
She looked up and toward the voice, a smile breaking past her tears. Creedy was alive– barely– clutching the edge of the stern as it rose out of the water.
You just said the voice had come from below, so why is she looking up? I didn’t get the feeling that she was upside down. If she is, you should make that clear in the motion above.
“Wouldn’t mind being on the ship,” he said, shivering. “If that’s alright by the captain.”
Wonderful ending to the scene. It shows a good bit of tension with a bit of a relief and that “Ah” moment. It could do a little more to push the reader into the next chapter, but overall, I like it!

Okay. My thoughts as a whole! I believe this is a great opening to the story. It shows the characters moving to a goal with instant conflict and tension to draw the reader in.
You had a bit of as-abuse as well as a bit too many said-book-isms, but those can be fixed in time.
The character voice was wonderful, and it really allowed me to get hooked into Constance’s head, though you used a bit too many pronouns for my taste. Especially in the first chapter, where pounding a character’s name into the readers head is important so that it sticks.
The descriptions were well done, but some were a little choppy.

I enjoyed the piece and thank you, Ms Yvone Williams, for allowing me to dissect it. 

Next: Critique #2


  1. Thanks for posting this, Travis! Great critique-- about to start editing now!

    1. Good luck with your edits. Let me you know when you have a new draft up, and I'll give it another go.