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!