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Friday, May 28, 2010

First Paragraph Review: Mid of Evil by Allen Taylor

First, the paragraph, as sent to me - before thoughts, remarks, etc, and in the format sent:


He unsheved his sword his breath was with him nor did his
heart beat fast. He was as calm as if he was at his cottage sitting by
the fire. The night was dark and moonless the air was cool and had
the stench of blood in it. His eyes focused and his hearing keen he
dismounted from his horse and waited only muddling the words
“come you bastards I haven’t got all night”. Just then from behind
the trees a shadow leaped out, with one smooth swipe of his
sword ashes lit up the dark then another leaped out and again he
swiped his sword as if it was apart of him and turned the creature
into ash. As he stepped back a man appeared stepping out of the
darkness, He wore an old knight’s garment and appeared to have
been a kings guard. The swordsman sheved his weapon and knew
he would have to draw it again, for he could smell the death and
blood on the knight and knew he was no longer a man. “You have
killed my squires’ swordsman I guess you will have to take their
place”. He said with a grin that showed two enlarged sharp teeth.
“I will be no ones slave and especially not to a night demon, your
time in this world has come to an end” the demon pulled from his
side a sword and raised it halfway into the sky.” I will not kill you swordsman but you will feel much pain as I slice you up a little; I might even cut off a few of your fingers after all you killed two and only offer yourself as one, you need to be taught a lesson”.
Ok.  Here's the paragraph again, with the line by line underneath each sentence, as promised:


He unsheved his sword his breath was with him nor did his
heart beat fast. 

(Unsheved?  While I suspect this is a misspelling of 'unsheathed', it brought to mind languishing crops.

The grammar here is a mess.  While I do tend to over-use commas, using none at all is not a good compromise.

I'm not quite sure who 'he' is, or why his breath being with him is significant - does it go on holiday by itself?

Why choose the overly verbose 'nor did his heart beat fast' over 'steady hearbeat' or 'calm'?)


He was as calm as if he was at his cottage sitting by
the fire.

(I still have no idea who 'he' is, where he is, or what he's doing there.  But he's apparently relaxed about it, as we've gotten the same information twice in the first two sentences, at the expense of learning anything about the situation.  It should be 'were', not 'was'.)

 The night was dark and moonless the air was cool and had
the stench of blood in it.

(This piece needs a copy editor(at the very least) in the worst way.  Out of three sentences, we have two run ons.  In the first paragraph.  Which is unfortunate - I don't mind the simplicity of the tone.  When used properly, a simple, matter-of-fact voice could be quite compelling.  At least we start to have some clue about where this mysterious 'he' is.)


 His eyes focused and his hearing keen he
dismounted from his horse and waited only muddling the words
“come you bastards I haven’t got all night”. 

(Wait, what?  Ok, I suspect he's outside at this point - but the horse was kind of a surprise.  From the first two sentences, it appeared that 'he' was lying in wait for something.  Apparently, he was doing that on horseback?

We have another run on sentence - three out of four.

'Muddling' the words?  Maybe he has a lisp.

and yes, the dialogue is shoved in the middle of the paragraph, and without capitalization.

This is also a very strong example of telling, rather than showing about the situation - we're flat out told that this guy has good eyesight and hearing, without any stimulus to indicate as such, we still don't really know where he is, have zero idea of what kind of world he occupies, and have no idea what the situation could be.)

Just then from behind
the trees a shadow leaped out, with one smooth swipe of his
sword ashes lit up the dark then another leaped out and again he
swiped his sword as if it was apart of him and turned the creature
into ash.

(More run on sentences!  Writing exciting action scenes can be tricky even for a writer with a full arsenal of mental tools at his or her finger tips.

This is just really, really awkward, particularly the 'smooth swipe of the sword ashes lit up' bit.  On first read, it implies (vaguely) a glowing sword that trails ashes.  But it somehow appears that attacking shadows turns them into flashes of ash, or that the shadows are really creatures of some sort of...oh heck, I'm confused.)

 As he stepped back a man appeared stepping out of the
darkness, He wore an old knight’s garment and appeared to have
been a kings guard. 

(Yikes.  I'll stop mentioning the run-on sentence issue, as it appears that the majority of lines in this sampling have that problem.


It's samples like this that created the new writer guideline 'show, don't tell'.)

The swordsman sheved his weapon and knew
he would have to draw it again, for he could smell the death and
blood on the knight and knew he was no longer a man.

('Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves...'  Sorry, that's one of the only hymns that I know, and I'm stuck thinking about sharecroppers again.

How did he know he'd have to draw it again?  If he knew, why on earth would he bother sheathing his weapon at this time?

Further confusion - so this dude was just attacked by shadows, but meeting a knight (at least so far as we've been told) that smells like blood, right after battling monsters, means that he's a bad guy?  How?  I was under the impression that people that fight all the time often get a bit bloody.

Is that the only indication that there is?  If so, how accurate could it possibly be? Seems pretty far fetched.  Again, we have no physical description of this knight other than he wears a 'garment'.)

 “You have
killed my squires’ swordsman I guess you will have to take their
place”. He said with a grin that showed two enlarged sharp teeth. 

(Killed who?  So far, we've seen shadows and creatures, and been told nothing about them.  Was this knight a past transgression?

Research Fail:  Squire's are the apprentices of knights - they don't have swordsmen of their own.  

Their place?  From the dialogue, our hero only killed one guy.  From the action, two shadow creatures.  I'm guessing this is more of a writing problem than a story continuity issue.

Other thought - this hero must have supernatural vision himself, as the  story seems to imply he's roaming around on horseback in pitch blackness, the only light given by exploding shadow creatures.  Yet he can see the detail in some guy's mouth without any other source of light.)


“I will be no ones slave and especially not to a night demon, your
time in this world has come to an end” the demon pulled from his
side a sword and raised it halfway into the sky.

(The dialogue tags indicates that it's the demon, not our hero who is saying this.  I'm ignoring some of the grammar stuff in this line-by-line, as there are just so many problems in this piece(in case you're wondering).

Halfway to into the sky?  This dude must be really, really tall.  Like the size of an apartment building.  The writing also implies that the sword was in the actual flesh of the demon, though I suspect the intent was that the sword was hanging from his side, rather than embedded into his side...

The 'night demon' thing is annoying, just because this is the first paragraph of a first book - there's no frame of reference.  The writer may know very well what this creature is in his head, but it's not being shared with the reader.

The other thing that's making no sense - two people stop mid battle, put away their weapons, engage in some not so witty reparte, and start fighting again?  This is illogical, captain.)


” I will not kill you swordsman but you will feel much pain as I slice you up a little; I might even cut off a few of your fingers after all you killed two and only offer yourself as one, you need to be taught a lesson”.
(Ok, I'm going to say it here.  Every single bit of dialogue in this piece is a mess - stilted, overwrought, awkward, and unrealistic.)



Overall review:

This is just a mess.  Just - everything.  I'd usually point out one or two specific things to work on, but there are too many problems in here.

For the writer, I highly recommend getting copies of Eats, Shoots, and Leaves; Self Editing for Fiction Writers, and The First Five Pages.

I cannot, in good conscience, recommend this book to anyone; but if you're that sympathetic, this book is an offering from Publish America, $25.00 plus shipping for 136 pages.

Thank you to Mr. Taylor for sending me this paragraph, and sincere well wishes on your writing journey.

3 comments:

  1. I struggled to get through it. As you say, there's lots of problems here that render the piece unreadable, IMO. Great analysis. It made me laugh. I love your voice. I praise the author for being willing to submit it and to let the chips fall where they might. I hope he takes your advice and strengthens his story.

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  2. They actually PUBLISHED this? I am shocked, this needs a lot of work!.

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  3. Publish America is a vanity press, they publish anything.

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