Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Critiqued Excerpt from Scarfar

For this week's Tuesday Critique we have a reader submission! Paul Horsman, who is already a published author in the Netherlands (with the novel De Schadew van de Revenaunt) and soon to be published in English, can be found here. And check out the cover art for his book!

Beautiful! I want to know why American covers aren't more like this. But it's time for my critique, from a story he calls Scarfar. Here we go:

Creaking, the old beech came loose from its roots. The earth trembled as it came down and snow flew everywhere. By "the old beech came loose from its roots" do you mean "the old beech was parted from its roots"? This is passive, which critics like to identify and warn against. The order of the words during "the earth trembled as it" makes us think "it" is the earth, but then we keep reading and discover it's the tree. It's also a compound sentence, so place a comma before the "and".

‘That's five.’ Harald Enske placed his ax hard into the still bleeding stump. Placing something, while not defined this way, has the connotation of being gentle. Try "lodged his ax into". This way, you don't need the word "hard". How is the stump bleeding? With sap? Do beeches do this? (Obviously I need to know more about tree anatomy.) With the back of his hand, he wiped the sweat from his face. ‘Enough for today.’ The old karl looked around the group. ‘Well done, men.’ His eyes rested on a face rest. This doesn't make sense. Did you mean "his eyes rested on one of their faces"? ‘You too, Muus. We’ll make a real Nord of you, one of these days.’ The freedmen roared with laughter.

Muus forced a smile, but he said nothing. Highlighted word unnecessary. As a child slave, he’d all too often been the butt of crude jokes and hard hands had taught him not to show offense. Comma needed at the highlight. Now, every stupid remark strengthened his silent resolve to run. This sentence might flow better if it read "Now every remark". We have gotten that he considers their words stupid. No need to say "silent" since it's understood that he wouldn't tell people he's resolved to run. His mind wandered to the countless escape plans he’d made and rejected. To run was one thing, to run and stay alive was quite something else. Thegn Alman would mobilize the whole kingdom to recapture him. That he didn’t look like a Nord was no help either. The previous two sentences don't mesh well as they stand. Try "Thegn Alman would go to any lengths to recapture him, and he looked nothing like a Nord". Also make sure to tell us soon why he's so important to capture. Once he’d seen himself, reflected in a pool of water. Switch the highlighted words. He’d seen his thin, pale face, half hidden behind unkempt black hair. Not a Nord’s face at all. Besides, every fucking Nord was half as much taller than he was. In addition, every woman. Dammit, even many of the children were bigger. Does Nord imply man? These sentences could be streamlined, for example "Every Nord, man or woman, was half as much taller than he was, and many of the children even were larger than him." Who is your target audience? Most people don't care to read two cuss words so close together, nor so close to the beginning of the book. Let the reader get to know the character, learn to love him, before he falls into such foul language. Therefore, he waited and nursed his longing for freedom.

(I added a paragraph break here. It was too long, and the theme changed.)

Freedom, the word brought vague memories. Personally I would make the comma a period and capitalize "the". Round huts on the banks of a sparkling river, surrounded by green hills. Children playing, of which he was one. Fog over the river and drakkars with grim boar heads, cutting through the white shrouds. Lose this comma. Panic. People screaming. Blood and fire. A muscular arm in hard leather, dragging his six years old self to one of those terrible boats. "Six-year-old" if this is how you want to word it. I would prefer "dragging him as a six-year-old" so the man dragging and the main character don't get confused. Endless days of storm and raging seas. A rainy marketplace in a harbor town full of people who spoke in strange tongues. A place where children were sold like sheep. Children like him. You need to vary your sentence structure/length more. This paragraph feels bogged down from repetitiveness.

(I added a paragraph break here. Don't mix memories with present in the same paragraph unless the memories are contained in one sentence.)

Then, his thoughts far away, he almost walked into a tree and yelped. Cut "then". Why would he yelp if he almost walked into a tree? Either he almost walked into a tree and glanced around to see if anyone noticed, or he did walk into that tree, which would cause him to yelp.

‘Ya dreamin’, slave boy?’ Orn, a warrior with a long reddish beard, grinned his rotten teeth bare. Put commas in highlighted spaces. ‘Y’are a maid then?’ He licked his lips.

Muus’ face flushed and he blessed the polar dusk that veiled his shame. Add comma in highlighted space. For someone to call him a girl was naming him unmanly, a mortal insult. With another Nord, this would’ve been a fighting matter. However, he was only Muus. A thrall. He had no honor and he couldn’t defend himself. Add comma in the highlighted space.

Orn grinned and gave him a poke with his elbow, so that he almost tripped. Almost tripped or actually tripped? Harald acts like he tripped in the next paragraph.

‘Watch where you’re goin’, you,’ said Harald Enske without looking.

Muus clenched his fists and hurried to the fore. Stinking, brainless pig. And what made it worse, that slob Orn was one of Kjelle’s toadies. Thegnling Kjelle, whose body slave Muus wasThis is worded awkwardly. I would say "who owned Muus."

Final thoughts: Yikes, that's a lot of red! But it's all easily remedied things. On the whole I like it. In these few words you've given us setting, background, a glimpse into character (though I would work on making him more likable, being the underdog alone is not enough), and tension. English may not be your first language, but based on this short excerpt I would guess that your grasp of how to tell a story is solid. I look forward to reading your other works.

Sorry for making it so long with my red additions. What do you think?


  1. I forgot something, so I'll post my reaction again...

    I'm very happy with your comments, Laura.
    They give me a handle to work with. Comma use is somewhat different from my native Dutch, that's not making it easier. The rest of the red I'll have to digest more slowly. I'm writing for adults, but still, cuss words are shaky ground. Over here, we tend to be more relaxed about a 'damn' here or there, so I have to watch that carefully.
    But I'm happy with this and I look forward to your opinion of my first book, Rhidauna.

    The cover was made by Jos Weijmer. He's not only a great artist, but also the dedicated publisher at Alter Ego Press and Zilverspoor, my Dutch publishers. AEP is the label for the international market.

    1. I have nothing against using cuss words in adult books, but I like them more after I've bonded with the character. Anyone else have an opinion on this?

      Give Jos my compliments! I hope my advice was helpful.