This is episode 9, and I want to start off by apologising for a mistake I made in last week’s episode. During my reaction to the opening of Storm Pentz’s Dark Spawn, I accidentally said “it’s more showing than telling” when what I meant was “it’s more telling than showing”. I think most of you took it the way I meant it instead of the way I actually said it, but I apologise for any confusion I caused.
I’ve had some feedback that people find it helpful when I repeat the line I’m looking at when I do my reactions, so I’ll try to be mindful of that. If you have any other feedback, comments, or suggestions, please feel free to drop me a line on Twitter or email – or in the comments if you’re watching this on YouTube.
And now, on with the show!
As ever, I’m not an expert, my intention is to be positive and helpful, and my opinions do not reflect the authors’ worth as people or as writers. Please ensure adequate sodium intake with this podcast.
NO TITLE NANCY
by Donna De Oliveira
I stand on the hill behind my home as the acrid smoke stings my nose and eyes. Even this far away the flames scorch my skin but I can’t seem to turn away. I’ve stood in this spot many times before and the view is always tranquil. A breeze whispering through the grass while the silver light of the moon dusts the deep blue of the hills. Now though, there is an unending roar in my ears and the house shines a violent shade of orange, washing the surrounding area in an unnatural glow. The flames writhe and twist, choking memories of my childhood. When the roof caves in, I feel a tug on my hand but still I watch until all that remains is naked walls and a dull throbbing in my chest.
I like this opening a lot. There’s a good sense of place in it, and I think it conveys the sense of devastation quite well. Let’s go through line by line, shall we?
“I stand on the hill behind my home as the acrid smoke stings my nose and eyes.” Good. I’ve nothing to say there.
“Even this far away the flames scorch my skin but I can’t seem to turn away.” I can almost feel this line. But I would say it’s always best to ditch the word “seem”, it’s vague and hedge-y, and it doesn’t add anything. “Even this far away the flames scorch my skin but I can’t turn away.”
“I’ve stood in this spot many times before and the view is always tranquil.” This line I’m less sure about. Does it add to the story? Does it give us information that we a) need and b) didn’t have before? I don’t think it does. I would usually say to cut it. However, the next line and the one following it, depend on this one. So perhaps changing it from “the view is always tranquil” to “the view has always been tranquil”.
“A breeze whispering through the grass while the silver light of the moon dusts the deep blue of the hills.” I would also say that this doesn’t necessarily need to be a separate sentence. I would combine it with the previous one. But I understand this is a stylistic choice, so that’s all good.
“Now though, there is an unending roar in my ears and the house shines a violent shade of orange, washing the surrounding area in an unnatural glow.” The one thing I’m not sold on in this sentence is the word “shines”. I think it feels too light and benevolent for what’s happening on the page. Perhaps something like “blazes” or “smolders” might work better.
“The flames writhe and twist, choking memories of my childhood.” This is good. Very evocative.
“When the roof caves in, I feel a tug on my hand but still I watch until all that remains is naked walls and a dull throbbing in my chest.” Another good sentence, and exactly the right kind of gut punching hook to keep the reader reading.
So very well done, Donna. Thanks for sending that in and I hope to see more from you soon!
by Chrissie Kruger
Merah awoke kicking and screaming as she was about to be set to sleep for six months for a fight she didn’t start and didn’t defend herself in. She realised that in fact she screamed in silence and could not move. Her one leg was in traction. What she also noticed was that this was not the back room of The Asylum for the Undead and Magical Beings but a total different type of hospital. Where was she? What was this place?
I want to preface this by saying that English is not the author’s home language, so there are some grammar mistakes that can be attributed to that. There’s a certain amount of direct translation that happens when one thinks in one language and writes in another. And I think that writing creatively in a second language is something to be praised and encouraged. So, if you have any comments – and remember, comments are welcome – please be kind. We are positive and helpful here.
Overall, I like the idea of it. I think it’s interesting and something I haven’t seen before. With that in mind let’s look at the paragraph in more detail.
“Merah awoke kicking and screaming as she was about to be set to sleep for six months for a fight she didn’t start and didn’t defend herself in.”
I don’t know if I would say “awoke” here. To me, that suggests that she was asleep voluntarily, which doesn’t make much sense in the context of the scene. I think I would go with something like “came to”.
“Kicking and screaming” is also something of a cliche. I would try to word this in a more interesting way. I think there’s a typo here as well – it should say “sent to sleep” instead of “set to sleep”.
And I think it would make more sense to say “for a fight she hadn’t started and hadn’t defended herself in”. The way I read it, I thought she was being put to sleep to act as some sort of dream cannon fodder in an upcoming fight, which I think is most likely not what the author intended.
“She realised that in fact she screamed in silence and could not move.” This sentence is fine, but it could be tighter. I would ditch “in fact” – it doesn’t add anything. I think I would say something like “She realised her screams were silent and she couldn’t move.”
“Her one leg was in traction.” This is one of those direct translations I was talking about earlier. It is grammatically correct in Afrikaans, and would be accepted as vernacular speech in South Africa, but should more properly be written as “One of her legs was in traction.” I think if this is intended for a purely South African or southern African market, then I would probably let the vernacular slide – provided it was maintained consistently throughout the book – but I think the international market would struggle with it.
“What she also noticed was that this was not the back room of The Asylum for the Undead and Magical Beings but a total different type of hospital.” Again, I think this is a ‘thinking in one language, writing in another’ thing. It’s not wrong, per se, but a little clumsily worded. I would rewrite as “She also noticed that this was not the back room of The Asylum for the Undead and Magical Beings, but a totally different type of hospital.”
There’s also some capitalisation of Important Things here, as seen in previous episodes, but it’s only one Important Thing, and so can be used to great effect. I would just like to point out that the word order in the Important Thing is a little ambiguous. The Asylum for the Undead and Magical Beings makes it sound like the beings it serves are both undead and magical simultaneously. I don’t think that’s what the author intended, so I would probably do a little rearranging of words. The Asylum for Magical Beings and the Undead makes it clear that it serves both undead beings and magical beings, and potentially beings that fit into both categories.
“Where was she? What was this place?” These sentences are fine, but they’re not grabbing me. I would cut them and end on the stronger, more exciting line before.
Thanks so much for your submission, Chrissie. I hope my comments weren’t too discouraging.
Music: Continue Life by Kevin MacLeod
Sound effects from freeSFX [https://www.freesfx.co.uk/]