Critiquing My Old Writing || Part 1

CritiquingI’m hesitant to share this now because it’s the first fiction I’ve shared on this blog. I don’t want people thinking I’m still this bad at writing. But, I love reading posts like this, so I’m doing it anyway.

In this post, I’m sharing the first chapter of the first book length thing I ever finished, written when I was 15 years old. Needless to say, please do not believe the quality of the chapter below in any way reflects my writing today.

Bluejay Feather

Some context

This draft was around 65,000 words. I never titled it, but often referred to it as Martian Murder Mystery. This temporary title is a good description of the plot: a murder mystery set on Mars. Not that this is apparent from this prologue. Oh, and there was also time travel. Lots of time travel.

The most embarrassing part is that the draft below is the revised edition. Back then, I though the only editing writers needed to do was fix all their grammatical errors.

I do have some plans to reuse my favorite aspects of this novel in future drafts (e.g. the plot and some world building elements), but have abandoned the idea of publication for this specific project, which is why I’ve posted this prologue.

The Prologue to My First Novel Length Draft Ever

Before this prologue there is a horrible poem. This poem is excluded for the purposes of this post.

Prologue: First Contact

Mars was once a rocky planet, devoid of all life. Before that changed 75 seventy-five years ago, no one on Earth would have thought anyone would ever call it home. When I came upon the planet for the first time, I’d expected a relaxing vacation away from the pressures of life on Earth. What I got instead was something I’d never expected, something that would change my life. It all started one Martian summer day as I was giving a speech.

Ugh, why is this started with summary? Start in scene! There is no need to explain what could be explained through action, especially not at the beginning of the story when I am trying to give readers a reason to continue.

Also, dependent clauses need a comma after them if they come at the beginning of a sentence. 

Despite all of my previous speeches, the sheer number of which would have left the average person in the state of shock, this was the first I’d seen of a stage. Also a first, were the unnerving stares of the live audience. All these factors made the words of my speech more difficult, as though the very air was poisoned. However, the most unnerving thing of all was not any of these facts, but instead the expressions of the audience. Before now, I’d always wondered what viewers thought of my speeches, I’d even seen the stats, but nothing could compare to this. Never before could I so clearly see the boredom, accusations, and jealousy portrayed in the faces of many in my audience. I swallowed hard, but made sure that my disposition continued to appear confident and energetic. Showing any sign of nervousness or hesitation to an audience is to tell them that you’re not worth listening to. Despite all these things, I started this speech as I had many others.:

This paragraph is way too long, especially when surrounded by other paragraphs that are also way too long. Paragraph length should vary.

Another low-level concern is that there is way too much abstract language over language that engages the senses. I should, for example, show how Chess is making herself appear confident and energetic instead of saying she appears that way. The audience, too, should be described.

That’s another thing, Chess, our narrator, probably should have had her name stated by now with a description of herself.

“I was only five the day the world moved backwards. I may have been young, but I can still recall the way everything, every broadcast, and every person seemed to freeze a moment. The invention of the first practical method of time travel should have been a joyous occasion, or so one might think. Instead, the possible implications seemed to suddenly dawn on people. If someone commits a crime, why not go back and prevent that person from existing all together? If someone is about to be murdered, injured, or raped, why not go back in time and prevent it from occurring? Why not even go back and prevent some of the bloodiest wars in history?

So much info-dumping and way too many rhetorical questions. The speech should also be interrupted by action.

“Before the year was out, we had a war on our hands. On one side, we had everyone who believed time should be unaltered and on the other, was everyone who believed that, no matter what the cost to ourselves, we should do whatever we can to assist our ancestors and make time as perfect as possible. The two groups were called the preservationists and the perfectionists. As time machines grew more and more readily available to members of both parties, it became all too apparent that battle tactics needed to be completely revised.

The audience would likely already know most of this, so there would be no reason for Chess to say most of it in her speech. They would also mostly be asleep by now. 

“The inclusion of time travel opened the door to a literal whole other dimension of warfare. No longer could wars be won by fighting in simple battles. The members of each side would continually go back and warn their former selves and both sides would be locked in an endless stalemate. Like a song playing on an endless loop that none of them even realized was repeating. As a result, no one can say exactly how long this war (known today as the 4-D War) actually lasted, but everyone can agree on the event that ended it.

*face palms* so much info-dumping. Even my head is spinning with all this information. I could also probably even make all this info-dumping much easier to understand if I were to just rewrite it at my current skill level.

“It was 199 years ago on this day when that war ended all because one man, my father Robert Tempest, proposed a compromise. This compromise became known as the Retribution Act. It stated that true time travel, which was never properly reproduced after the Zephan Aaron disaster in any case, was outlawed entirely, and the more practical, less dangerous form of time travel known as dream travel would only be used in murder cases to force the person who committed the murder in the first place to experience exactly what their victim had experienced. People who die while dream traveling never come back…” I trailed off as I noticed something, or rather, someone behind the curtain of the stage move. I tried to pass this off as dramatic effect about my previous comment to allow the full meaning to sink in. What I’d seen had been a girl about my age, maybe a little older (or way younger depending on prospective) she had been wearing a “retribution is a crime in and of itself” t-shirt. I hated protesters, but wasn’t about to let them ruin my speech.  Something had felt off about this protester though, as though I knew her from someplace, but at the same time I was entirely positive that I had never seen her face before in my life.

Okay, here is the first interesting thing that happens in this chapter. Chess should have noticed this person sooner and had her unease intermingle with all the info-dumping.

Chess should also be sharing many more of her thoughts on the matter and how she is remaining calm in front of her audience despite this protester’s sudden appearance. That would have made it all much more interesting.

There should have been a new paragraph after the end of the speech.

Also, Martians from the distant future wear t-shirts? Who knew.

“On a happier note, many people often ask me how it is possible for me to be so young, not even sixteen and yet have been seven 199 years ago. The answer, I’m afraid, is not nearly as creative as some of the rumors I’ve heard drifting around. As is understandable, not everyone was happy with my father’s compromise, and so, small rebellions continued. It is not that difficult for someone to make the mental leap and come to realize that my father was at the top of the rebel’s hit lists, meaning that the rest of his family was not all that far behind. In an effort to protect me, I was cryogenically frozen and, as a result, became the first person to awaken from a long term cryogenic sleep lasting longer than twenty years. ”

All this information and Chess’s name hasn’t even been mentioned once?!

Besides, it was not by my choice, I wanted to add, but I didn’t because I knew the comment would be everywhere, and therefore was not worth the potential trouble it would cause: even if it was the truth.

Chess’s emotions should be portrayed in a less telly way.

“This in no way violates the laws of Retribution which only mention time travel, not cryogenics.” I wanted to wrap my speech up quickly now to figure out what the deal was with that protester, but now, as I glance at the area where she had been only seconds before, she is already gone.

Chess really should have been a lot more concerned about this protester.

“I must say that Mars is the perfect change in scenery I needed in order to celebrate this historic event in a whole new way. Even here on this planet, it is important to remember that history still links our two worlds. This is my first experience of interplanetary travel, and I must say that the trip is completely worth it. Thank you all for your time everyone! Wishing you all a happy Retribution Treaty Remembrance Day this is Aubriana Tempest.” After my speech had ended I looked around for someone who had seen the strange protester girl, but no one had noticed her: no one except me.

The most cliche end to a speech ever. There was no need for the entire speech to appear here. I could have included only the lines that were important.

I should mention that Chess is the nickname the main character goes by throughout most of the novel. Aubriana is her legal name. This in and of itself is rather gag worthy.

The last line in this paragraph is probably the most exciting thing that happens so far: that no one notices the protester and the protester doesn’t directly disrupt the speech.

Overall Thoughts

  • Most of the speech should be cut with only relevant lines shared with the reader. Those lines absolutely necessary to understanding events should be shared, the rest should be excluded.
  • Chess needs to interact with more of the characters, even if those characters don’t have speaking roles. She’s in an auditorium full of people. There should be plenty of characters around for her to interact with.
  • Chess needs to be more concerned about this protester and do more to prevent the protester from ruining her speech.
  • I need to do more to show readers why they should care about Chess. I suspect the scene starts a little too late. More about Chess can be established if I show who she speaks to before her important speech and her reaction to the need for the speech to be given.
  • Paragraphs need to be shorter and more varied. This is in part due to ungrammatical lack of spacing after quotation marks.
  • There needs to be more description using language that evokes the senses.
  • There is no reason for this to be a prologue. There is no time jump and Chess narrates the whole novel. This should be chapter one.

This is only a small percentage of what is wrong with this chapter, but there isn’t enough room in this post for me to cover everything.

Bluejay Feather

Anyone want to see chapter one or for me to critique another of my old works? Anyone else have some embarrassing old writing shoved in a drawer somewhere? Do you agree with my critique of this chapter?

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Red Rising by Pierce Brown 4 Stars

15839976Title: Red Rising

Author: Pierce Brown

Publication date: January 28, 2014

Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction

Synopsis: Darrow spends his days on Mars mining the minerals needed to terraform the planet’s surface. He could care less about the fact that he is a member of the lowest “caste”, oppressed by the Society. Darrow is too busy trying to provide for his wife and extended family. Darrow knows the price of rebellion. He attended his father’s execution at five years old.

Darrow’s outlook on rebellion changes when another of Darrow’s loved one is killed by the society. Her dying wish: break the chains. Now Darrow will stop at nothing to make her dream a reality. Even if it means infiltrating the Gold, upper-class, society and pretending to be one of his enemies.

Review: Mars is one of my favorite settings. It’s where I set the first novel length manuscript I completed, and I’ve always had a fascination with the planet. So of course, when I saw a book set on Mars with generally good reviews I wanted to read it.

The first fourth or so of this book is very different from the latter three fourths. Based on reading many reviews, what seems to make or break the reading experience is whether the reader likes the path the story takes in the later portion. For me both portions worked. Although the “teenagers in an arena fighting for their lives” and “boarding school” tropes that showed up in the second half have been overdone in fiction as of late Brown did a decent job in portraying it in an exciting way.

This book clearly draws inspiration from many others. Sometimes this bothers me about books, but for some reason it didn’t in this case. It likely has something to do with the fact that I don’t think I’ve ever before read ideas put together in this particular way before.

The ideas are drawn from so many vastly different places I have trouble categorizing it. The book is set on Mars, but has a very dystopian feel at times. At others it has a mythological fantasy feel with all because the houses at the school Darrow attends are named after Roman gods or even Lord of the Flies.

There is also the question of whether or not it is young adult, new adult, or adult. Darrow starts the book at 16, but within it two years pass, and I know for a fact the next book has a time jump in between and the story restarts with Darrow at age 20. This book is also very realistic in the horrors of the totalitarian regime and the actions of the characters who live within it. Many characters bring out the worst in themselves in this novel.

While I wanted to see more of some world-building aspects others felt overly simplified. I can think of other books off the top of my head that use a color classification system to differentiate between classes of people. Then again, I’ve been reading an excessive number of Brandon Sanderson books lately and have come to expect excellent world-building.

Something I would have liked to see more of is the world building, specifically how living on Mars affected the characters. We’re not shown much of the Martian Civilization, and the rebels themselves. The rebel organization was interesting, but like so many other dystopian novels I’ve read it was skimmed over in this novel, but I’m hopeful more of the rebels will be seen in future books as the story expands in scale.

What readers should know: This book features a significant amount of swearing, mentions of cannibalism, mentions of sex, prostitution murders, executions, and some side characters are raped. The cannibalism, prostitution, and rape do not occur while the main character is present, but it’s clear what is happening. Darrow is present for and sometimes even participates in murders and executions. The sex scenes are not detailed, and the book puts little emphasis on romance.

Rating: I flew through this book and really enjoyed it overall, but would have liked the later portion to be more in depth details about the rebels and the world so I’ve given it a four out of five.

4 blue jays