An old critique dissected (Part 2)

(Continued from Part 1…)

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“”Lose something, friend?” I asked as I pulled another chair up to his table. “I can find it for you, maybe.” Has the man sat down now? Because we’ve just been told he was leaning against the wall (‘ordinary as can be’), unless he was sitting in the chair leaning against the wall?! Maybe clarify in the previous paragraph.

((Is it so hard to imagine someone leaning against the wall that their chair is next to? I do it frequently, myself.))

“Don’t get me wrong. Being mistaken for ‘kin has its advantages (from?) time to time.”

“Of course it sizzled and charred, and the air smelled of burnt hair.” ‘smelled’ seems a generic term. The air was briefly filled with… Also maybe you could describe how the main character finds the smell? It is nice? Disgusting? Is the ‘hair test’ common knowledge?

((Oh, by all means, describe the obvious at every opportunity – that’s the way to write a good short story.))

“But(?) dragon-kin are fireproof.”

((Yes, “but.” Contrast, y’know?))

“I didn’t laugh in his face. It’s mean to make fun of fools, and dangerous to laugh at madmen, and I wasn’t sure which he was.” Too many ‘ands’ perhaps get rid of the first one?

((Cadence. Repetition for effect. Think about it – if you can.))

Note – so far I’ve read ‘time to time’ twice… replace one? One’s when assumed dragon-kin (but not), once when finding people near top. From time to time, sometimes, on rare occasions, often, rarely – how frequent is ‘time to time’? From what time to what time?

“Note – so far I’ve read ‘time to time’ twice… replace one?” It’s an expression that the character uses. Should I get rid of everything that makes her voice distinctive?

((Why do the same people who want to help me with my ‘limited vocabulary’ also complain that I use words they don’t know? Kid, I know expressions that mean ‘from time to time’ that you’ve never even read, much less know how to use…))

“”So,” I said. “Now that we’ve got that fact out of the way. I’m Alandra Kade. What do you want me to find?”” why ‘what’ and not ‘why’? Is it more common for Alandra to look for ‘things’ as opposed to ‘people’?

“why ‘what’ and not ‘why’? Is it more common for Alandra to look for ‘things’ as opposed to ‘people’?” – I think you mean “why ‘what’ and not ‘who’?” And yes, she looks for things more often than she looks for people. Isn’t that what she said in the opening paragraphs?

“Was there a pause before he answered? “I want you to look for Stephan Dragonborn,” he said.” The pause – maybe personalize it, and then add why it’s relevant of there is a pause. Is the pause indicative of guilt? Something to hide?

“The pause – maybe personalize it, and then add why it’s relevant of there is a pause. Is the pause indicative of guilt? Something to hide?” – You assume you know why he pauses. If she knew that now, there wouldn’t be much story, would there?

((At last the critiquer starts asking the right questions – but she shouldn’t be asking me, as if I’d made an error in writing rather than a deliberate choice not to give away the whole plot right away.))

“and I won’t take your money when I know I can’t give you results.”” Won’t or can’t? ‘Can’t to me seems more of a result of Alandra’s inner conflict, whereas ‘won’t’ is more matter-of-fact

“”and I won’t take your money when I know I can’t give you results.”” Won’t or can’t? ‘Can’t to me seems more of a result of Alandra’s inner conflict, whereas ‘won’t’ is more matter-of-fact” – Yes. If this is your way of saying that women are never matter-of-fact, let’s not get into that again.

“and (as) the recorded voice of Hannah Stonewell sang about waiting for someone who never arrives.” maybe you can make a more specific reference to the music as it’s first mentioned earlier (around the reference to ‘taste in music’)

“and (as) the recorded voice of Hannah Stonewell sang about” – Correct as originally written. Why would you use “as” there?

“”I didn’t say you have to find him,” he said slowly, while the flicker of the lantern did strange things with the shadows of his face, and the recorded voice of Hannah Stonewell sang about waiting for someone who never arrives. “Only look for him, and tell me what trails you follow. I will pay you well,” he added.”

“”I didn’t say you have to find him,” he said slowly. The flicker of the lantern did strange things with the shadows of (on?) his face, and the ‘recorded voice’ (?) of Hannah Stonewell sang (wailed, whispered, forcefully sang?) about waiting for someone who never arrives. “Only (Just?) look for him (is this indefinite? This client really doesn’t want Stephan found?), and tell me what trails you follow”

Yes, “recorded voice.” Alandra does mention earlier in the story that the music wasn’t life that night at Johansen’s.

“”I am not going to steal the secrets of your trade,” he said, right after that very thing (thought/concept?) occurred to me.”

“Said” is not a word to be avoided. In fact, many editors complain of writers who fall into “said-bookism,” using too many fancy synonyms for a word that is meant to be unobtrusive and functional.

“”Be sure of it,” I said (warned/cautioned?), “’cause no one steals from me, hear?” But I was already thinking past that. What if I did take this job? It would surely be a challenge, so see how much I could learn. At that (And at this) point, I never considered that I might (could) succeed.”

“I never considered that I might (could) succeed” – Why the change? “Might” implies possibility, not ability, and it is possibility that is in question.

“”Sure,” I said. “Why the hell not?”” has the mood changed from Alandra’s warning against stealing? Maybe a smile could replace the previous serious expression?

((Um… Yeah. Missed the narration where her mood is changing because she’s “already thinking past that,” did you?))

“We talked a little more, mostly about music – he really did like HDFC’s stuff – and not at all about the find he’d just hired me for.” A little ambigious, disjointed – “and not at all about the find he’d just hired me for’ there is too much between the start and the end of this sentence. ‘We talked no more about the job, instead speaking (why? out of politeness? simply to fill in the awkwardness if no one spoke?) a little about music. I learnt he really did like HDFC’s stuff (he really ‘did like? Had you heard he did and not known if it was true?) how is this relevant? Maybe it’s more relevant to focus on what they’re ‘not talking about’ (the job) rather than things they are talking about that don’t add to the story.

((The critiquer has apparently never heard of the concept of drawing attention to something by not pointing at it… The dog that didn’t bark, and all that. I’m also getting tired of the frequent use of second person when discussing the protagonist. I am not Alandra Kade, obviously.))

“(It was) as if, once he convinced me to take the job, he didn’t want to think about it anymore.” Why didn’t he want to think about it anymore? Was it stressful? Worrying? He couldn’t care less about it? It was too much to think about/he no longer had to worry about it now someone was looking?

“Why didn’t he want to think about it anymore? Was it stressful? Worrying? He couldn’t care less about it? It was too much to think about/he no longer had to worry about it now someone was looking?” – THIS IS FIRST-PERSON NARRATION. If Alandra – the viewpoint character – doesn’t know, it isn’t appropriate to tell the reader. First person is like that.

“I decided he was a pretty nice guy, for a Terran.” Is it worth mentioning earlier he is a Terran?

“Is it worth mentioning earlier he is a Terran? She’s in a Terran city, in a part of that city not known for being friendly toward her people. Naturally she’d assume that he’s not one of her people unless she had evidence otherwise.

((I should be glad that THIS critiquer didn’t ask, “What’s a Terran?” That has happened a few times. Marrah, Murphy, and the Mad God protect me from mundanes who think they can read science fiction and fantasy without a bit more thought/paying attention than is required for reading stories set in the world they live in… Yes, I know she’d have understood better if I’d used the word ‘Earthling’ instead, but it’s a stupid word that I refuse to use at all, and besides, it implies that Alandra’s people are from another planet, which they aren’t… and that all Terrans are from Earth, which they aren’t.))

“It was only late afternoon when we both left Johansen’s, I to begin working and he to do whatever (it is) he did with his time.” It was (still?) late afternoon… I get the impression they weren’t in Johansen’s for long, saying it was ‘only late afternoon’ (to me) implies they’d been there a long time and were surprised to find it wasn’t later. Also this piece of information has surprised me. I had assumed it was evening up to this point! Maybe you can mention earlier what time of day it is? Maybe someone had just finished lunch or something!

“‘”It was only late afternoon when we both left Johansen’s, I to begin working and he to do whatever (it is) he did with his time.”‘ – No, this ‘correction’ is incorrect.

“As we turned to part ways, he said, “Thank you, Alandra Kade, for takgn this job. It means… a great deal to me.” The way he said it, he made it sound so important. I turned and looked at him again.” How did Alandra feel about the way he made it sound? We know it sounded ‘important’ but did it give her a sense of duty? Of worry? Curiousity? Motivation?

((Overemphasis on character’s emotions… PLEASE stop with the ‘women are all super-emotional creatures who talk about how they feel at every chance’ BS. At least accept that Alandra isn’t human and may not be just like female humans that the reader knows personally.))

“In the brighter light of the sun, his eyes were more of a mossy hazel than brown, and his lighter, reddish lashes gave them an unframed look. His face was pale, unfreckled and clean-shaven…” ‘…unfreckled and clean shaven’

((Yet another incorrect ‘correction’… *sigh*))

I don’t know if it’d be worth mentioning ‘unfreckled’ unless freckles are common. Thought I like the word ‘unfreckled’ a lot! Don’t know about ‘brighter’ (as opposed to ‘bright’ – brighter in contrast to the dim lighting in Johansen’s? Maybe make more connection as a lot has happened since it’s mention)

“I don’t know if it’d be worth mentioning ‘unfreckled’ unless freckles are common.” – Freckles are common on people with very pale skin. The fact that this man doesn’t have them would be noticed by someone like Alandra (“there’s nothing like elven memory – while it lasts – for holding trivia”), even if she doesn’t know yet why it’s significant.

“I didn’t see what happened next, because I was facing the other way – but suddenly Devin grabbed me and pulled me back from the street.” This is the first time you’ve referred to him by name (not including introducing himself), wondering why? ‘Suddenly he grabbed me’ (in my opinion) keeps the story rolling better, makes it more personal, less ‘telling’

((Even though it IS ‘telling’…? Surely the opening lines of the story indicate that, as Alandra would have no need to say, “I’m a finder,” to herself.))

We already know it must be Devin, we don’t need the clarification.

((It wasn’t written that way for clarification, and given what happens immediately after, there could be confusion for readers who don’t pay attention.))

Maybe have Alandra make use of his name when in earlier conversation with him (dialogue)

“This is the first time you’ve referred to him by name (not including introducing himself), wondering why?” – Because although Alandra is telling this story in the order events happened, she is telling it from a time after it all unfolded (Isn’t that what readers assume when reading first-person fiction? The whole “You always know that the main character doesn’t die ’cause they’re telling you what happened” issue?), and she is reluctant to call him by the wrong name. Call it foreshadowing.

((Y’know, people who read the story through first instead of making snap judgments based on a couple of pages generally have no trouble whatsoever seeing for themselves why Alandra, telling about all this after the fact, doesn’t use this guy’s name a lot. Think about it for a minute…))

“I’d been wrong; this guy wasn’t Terran after all.

And I still didn’t have a clue.”

She didn’t have a clue about what? The case? Is it common to mix ‘races’? Are Terran’s like a different race? Is it Devin’s nationality(?) that Alandra doesn’t have a clue about? And if this is so, it this something that should cause worry or a common problem?

((Seriously? An apostrophe to form a plural? *thwap!*))

“Are Terran’s like a different race?” – Well, Terrans are different from Alandra’s race. She describes herself (indirectly) as having pointed ears, yes? You’re a Terran – you tell me if that’s a common trait for your species.

((As for Alandra ‘still not having a clue…’ Meaning is ambiguous on purpose. Foreshadowing, remember?))

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About Thomas Weaver

I’m a writer and editor who got into professional editing almost by accident years ago when a friend from university needed someone to copyedit his screenplay about giant stompy robots (mecha). Having discovered that I greatly enjoy this kind of work, I’ve been putting my uncanny knack for grammar and punctuation, along with an eclectic mental collection of facts, to good use ever since as a Wielder of the Red Pen of Doom. I'm physically disabled, and for the past several years, I’ve lived with my smugly good-looking twin Paul, who writes military science fiction and refuses to talk about his military service because he can’t. Sometimes Paul and I collaborate on stories, and sometimes I just edit whatever he writes. It's worked out rather well so far. My list of non-writing-related jobs from the past includes librarian, art model, high school teacher, science lab gofer… Although I have no spouse or offspring to tell you about, I do have six cats. (The preferred term is "Insane Cat Gentleman.") I currently spend my time blogging, reading, editing, and fending off cats who like my desk better than my twin’s.
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