Editing

Critique #2

I’m very sorry about another delay in posting. Between family, traveling, and house-shopping, it’s all I can do to check my email (and that doesn’t include replying to emails). I promise, one of these days I will catch up and return to a schedule. I just don’t know if that day will come anytime soon. But I appreciate your patience, loyal readers!

I finally have a treat for you: a new critique! The first critique, courtesy of Syd, had good participation, so I wanted to try a second. Today’s excerpt was donated by fourteen-year-old Savannah, who you may remember as one of the winners of the SUN contest. Sav wrote the first draft of her novel in July, and she offered me the entire draft to read and choose an excerpt from. Thank you, Sav, for your generosity and courage!

This POV is from a person who’s never been inside a Wal-Mart before:
________________________________________________________

Odin stepped through the sliding doors into this odd frigid world. A world of yellow smiley faces and glum, rushing people. The world of Wal-Mart.

Odin seemed uncomfortably, if not horribly out of place. He timidly stretched into this strange world, probably wishing to turn back. He turned the corner sharply, avoiding the impertinent eyes of the passersby. He cautiously grabbed a bottle of Pine-Sol off the shelf. If Odin had looked out of his element before, now he looked as if a speck of dust would send him flying out of the alien planet. The next thing I new a bottle of Windex, a dust rag, laundry detergent, a bucket, and a toilet brush went into his cart, along with a mop. If I had pictured what we would be doing, I would never in a million years envision this. Odin was quite the spectacle with a cello on his back and a mop in his hand.
_________________________________________________________

Disclaimer: I am not infallible. The following are just my opinions.

The first paragraph made me laugh! I especially love—A world of yellow smiley faces and glum, rushing people. The world of Wal-Mart. How true! I wouldn’t change a single word in those two lines.

Point #1: In the very first line, odd and frigid need to be separated by a comma. How can you tell if two adjectives require a comma? Ask yourself two questions:  1) Can the adjectives be flipped without changing meaning?  2) Can the word and be inserted between the adjectives without changing meaning? If you answer Yes to both questions, the adjectives require a comma. So you could write frigid, odd world or odd and frigid world, and it wouldn’t change the meaning of the sentence. That is, the two adjectives equally modify the noun. But if I wrote She works at a nearby community college, no comma is required between nearby and community. Why? Because those two adjectives aren’t equal. Community is closer to the noun since it’s more closely related in meaning (this point is based on THE LITTLE, BROWN COMPACT HANDBOOK).

Point #2: But if you change the first sentence to this odd, frigid world, then it looks too much like the second sentence’s glum, rushing people. Repetition can be used to your advantage, but I don’t think it would work well here. Besides, you already have the repetition of world (which does work very well). Solution? Just delete odd (oddness is implied by the other descriptions). Speaking of repetition, both paragraphs begin with Odin. If at all possible, try not to use the same opening word more often than every four paragraphs.

Point #3: Reread the second paragraph of the excerpt. Notice anything? The first thing I notice is the surplus of adverbs. Why are adverbs bad? Because they’re weak and lazy compared to strong verbs or witty metaphors. Adverbs are fine in moderation, but avoid them if you can. Cut them during the second draft and make your writing stronger. However, I rather like the first sentence of the second paragraph—it strikes me as funny. So I might keep Odin seemed uncomfortably, if not horribly, out of place. But I would delete all the other adverbs in that paragraph.

Point #4: I think you could rewrite this to do more showing, less telling. Play up the senses. Picturing Odin and a cello is already funny, but make the scene come alive with details. Wal-Mart would be overwhelming to a newbie.

Here’s a rewrite, just as an example:

_____________________________________________

Odin stepped through the sliding doors into a frigid world. A world of yellow smiley faces and glum, rushing people. The world of Wal-Mart.

He seemed uncomfortably, if not horribly, out of place. He always looked out of his element, but now he looked as if a speck of dust would knock him off the alien planet. Hesitating inside the doors, he glanced back at the parking lot. Then he gritted his teeth and yanked a shopping cart free.

With halting steps, he pushed the cart through towering aisles. Thousands of products loomed over us, several of which I’d never seen before. The colors burned my eyes until I squinted against the glare. I tried to read the labels of the bottles—Windex, Pine-Sol, Tide—before he tossed them in. The cart reverberated with crash after crash. Never in a million years would I have pictured Odin buying dust rags and a toilet brush.

Adults and children, bickering over food and other purchases, fell silent near Odin. He avoided their impertinent eyes and steered wide of their carts, but he couldn’t hide. He was quite the spectacle with a cello on his back and a mop in his hand.

____________________________________________

I tried to add sights and sounds. Smell might be possible in the food section of the store, depending on the POV of Sav’s character.

Overall, I really like the humor in this scene. It’s also interesting to see Odin in public and how he interacts with people. Sav’s story has a fabulous concept and unique characters. Thank you for sharing this excerpt, Sav!!

Now I’ll open the floor to other reviewers! Reminder: this is the first draft of a first novel. Our goal as beta readers is to be helpful and supportive. Constructive criticism is welcome, but I will delete any mean, useless flaming. When giving advice, it always helps to sandwich it with praise. Thank you in advance for following these rules and participating!

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7 thoughts on “Critique #2

  1. This POV is from a person who’s never been inside a Wal-Mart before:

    The POV is actually the first person speaker, who is observing Odin, who I gather is the one who has never been inside a Wal-Mart? Otherwise you have POV slips in the second paragraph.

    this odd frigid world, this strange world, the alien planet

    I don’t understand if this is meant to convey Odin’s otherworldliness or if both Odin and the narrator are on a different planet.

    He timidly stretched into this strange world

    This is an odd visual, especially given that later on in the paragraph the odd thing about Odin is that he’s carrying a cello? and is not, after all, some sort of misty or elastic being. I also find it somewhat contradictory that he’s both strong enough to carry a cello around and weak enough to be knocked over by a speck of dust.

    I tried to read the labels of the bottles—Windex, Pine-Sol, Tide—before he tossed them in. The cart reverberated with crash after crash. Never in a million years would I have pictured Odin buying dust rags and a toilet brush.

    Hmm. I didn’t get that in the original the narrator had never been to Wal-Mart either. But s/he knows what dust rags and toilet brushes are, but not Windex, etc? It seems like a bit of an odd world-building choice to me, unless there’s a better explanation for it in another part of the book. I’m also not sure that it’s necessary to name by brand the different cleaners — is it going to be relevant later on? If not, I wouldn’t mention it.

    Smell might be possible in the food section of the store

    Actually in all sections of the store — shoes (especially leather ones) and clothes give off a smell, so do books (new paper smell) and electronics. Cleaners, especially, smell very strongly of chemicals (bleach, etc) and fragrance (ew), both of which can give me a headache if I’m in that aisle for too long. Being that these seem to be non-human characters, if their sense of smell is stronger than a human’s, they’d be able to pick up on that and more — people walking around smell too. Not that it has to be described all the time, of course.

    • Odin is human, and I think he’s been in Wal-Mart before. He just acts strangely because he’s shy and awkward around people. The narrator is … somewhat human, and definitely new to Wal-Mart. I’m not 100% sure the narrator can smell, so that’s why I didn’t go into details about scents. Wal-Mart SEEMS like an alien planet to the narrator, but it’s just Earth. Savannah can work out any POV details about what the narrator does or does not know.

      I appreciate your feedback, but please include praise along with your criticism, as stated in the rules. The point of these exercises is to encourage, not discourage.

      • Oops. Sorry. I don’t mean to be discouraging. I am intrigued by the characters, especially Odin with the cello! And his name, since it carries some baggage (Norse god of war?).

        I think the main problem I have with this scene is that it doesn’t establish the narrator’s POV right away — though, in a larger context this might not be a problem — so I thought I was supposed to be in Odin’s POV and then it turns out the narrator is someone else, which is confusing.

  2. Yeah, I can see what you mean. But I don’t think it’s a problem in a larger context. The novel has the same narrator throughout, so the reader gets used to that POV.

    These excerpts are so small, it’s impossible to judge the larger context. It’s easier to focus on the excerpt itself and look for the little details—grammar, mechanics, word choice, etc.

    Thanks for understanding! 🙂

  3. Hello Erin!

    First of all, let me say congratulations to Savannah as a SUN contest winner…and especially for being 14 and writing a novel! Wow!

    This excerpt is intriguing, but as you say, Erin, it’s impossible to judge the larger context. It helps to know that Odin is ‘human’ . I got the feeling that the POV (narrator) is not Odin, but is a sort of ‘part’ of Odin, is sort of ‘inside’ Odin’s head……well, maybe I’m way off, but I felt as though the narrator was describing things seen sort of through a camera’s eye, (or Odin’s eye) you know…..very intriguing! What alerted me to this possibility? The sentence: If I had pictured what WE would be doing, I would never in a million years envision this.

    In the first two lines of the excerpt I feel Savannah has successfully presented the reader with a world of contrast and irony. I did wonder about the use of ‘odd’ and ‘frigid’ in the same sentence. Maybe Erin might consider:’

    Odin stepped through the sliding doors into this odd world; a frigid world of yellow smiley faces and glum, rushing people– the world of Wal-Mart.

    No change of words….just punctuation and word order.

    I agree, Erin, with watching overuse of adverbs.

    Re: He seemed uncomfortably, if not horribly, out of place:

    Perhaps this might work: He seemed horribly out of place.

    Why? I think ‘horribly’ insinuates discomfort, so maybe ‘uncomfortably’ is unnecessary in the sentence.

    And yes, Erin, as you suggested, playing up the senses and “show” rather than “tell” are good suggestions.

    One further word to Savannah: If I had kept on writing when I was 14 (instead of being too much distracted by that cute guy in my class!)….I’d be a lot further ahead than I am now!

    Keep on writing Savannah….and good luck!

    Hugs,
    Ann

    • Hi Ann! Thanks so much for your comment!

      By the way, I totally agree with what you said about writing at 14 … I wish I had written a novel at that age!! Oh, to be young again! LOL, not really. I don’t think I could survive high school twice! 😀

      Ann, you’re VERY close to guessing the truth between Odin and the narrator. They are connected, in a way, and the narrator has (almost) an inside look at Odin. Where Odin goes, the narrator goes too! Very observant of you!

      I like your suggestions for word choice and punctuation. It always helps to have more than one opinion! Thanks again for offering your input!!

      Hugs, Erin

      P.S. I plan to post your critique next! Not sure what day it will be though. I’ll hopefully be in touch with you this week. Talk to you soon!

  4. Pingback: Critique #3 « E. M. Rowan’s Field Notes

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