16.9.10

Battle of the Betas

Hey guys! Today on the blog I am beta reading Alicia Gregoire's first page of her urban fantasy, Phoenix Rising for Battle of the Betas an event where eight readers, me included, read one page of someone's WIP and give an honest critique.

This is only the second round, but I'm really excited to apart of this, and I hope my critique is helpful to Alicia.

Here is the original page:

20 Years Ago

Ianos studied the chimera pride that roamed the foothills outside Timmons for months in search of the runt. With a pair of large males and several females, it took him longer than he wanted, but once discovered, he kept his eye on it. In a final attempt of self-preservation, they abandoned it weeks ago. Each day it grew weaker, languishing without the companionship of the pride. On the fourteenth day, Ianos executed his oh so easy plan.
Armed with nothing other than his knowledge of spells, he made his final trek to the foothills. He was much closer than he’d been in his previous visits to the chimera grounds and never seen anything like the beast before. It lay in the sun, with only one head awake, but not alert. The lion head mewled, mourning its fate. Its paper lantern thin wings stretched on the ground while the dragon and goat heads slept.
It was awing.
The lion head despondently watched Ianos’ approach but roared to awaken the other two heads when Ianos crossed some unknown border. The beast rose to its full height, stretched its wings wide, and bellowed—all three heads created a cacophony of rage.
Ianos snarled and crouched, ready to strike. Electricity spurted from his palms towards the chimera. It dodged at the last second and ran head-on towards the sorcerer. He ran into a cave to his right; he’d have better luck surviving the fight if he was able to corner the animal. The beast skidded, turned, and charged again. Ianos leapt onto its back. He held tightly onto the lion’s neck scruff and struggled to pull a lasso out of his jeans.

My notes are in purple:

Ianos studied the chimera pride that roamed the foothills outside Timmons for months in search of the runt.

To be honest, this first sentence didn't really reel me in. For one, it was too wordy. This was one of the sentences in your excerpt that had my tongue tied. So, I would suggest breaking this up into two sentences just so that it flows a little better, and the reader doesn't get confused.

I'll admit that I didn't know what a chimera was, until I Googled it. A chimera is, according to Wikipedia a "monstrous fire-breathing creature", which is really cool because this comes from Gerek mythology and I can already sense that your urban fantasy will be different from all of the others out there.

With a pair of large males and several females, it took him longer than he wanted, but once discovered, he kept his eye on it.

This sentence could be a bit more clear. I don't like that you're using "it" because I'm assuming that you're talking about this "runt" but I'm not really sure. So far, I can't see the scene in my head, and I don't know anything about Ianos, except that he's been studying in Timmons for months.

I have read a lot of books, and I have found that most novels written in first person rely on voice to hook the reader, whereas books written in third person rely on setting and style to hook the reader. But I haven't gotten a taste of the setting yet. I know that Ianos is in Timmons, but I want to see this place. What's it like?

The most important advice I will give you is to set the stage right off the bat, using a lot of imagery, and a mixture of short and long sentences, otherwise you'll lose your reader.

In a final attempt of self-preservation, they abandoned it weeks ago. Each day it grew weaker, languishing without the companionship of the pride.

Again with the word "it".

On the fourteenth day, Ianos executed his oh so easy plan.

I'm not sure what his "oh so easy plan" is, so I'm going to read on to find out.

Armed with nothing other than his knowledge of spells, he made his final trek to the foothills.

My first impression of Ianos was that he was some sort of scientist or adventurer, but then I read "other than his knowledge of spells" and started to wonder what and who exactly is Ianos. You don't really establish that in the beginning, and I think that it's really important that you do, because I assume Ianos is an important character.

He was much closer than he’d been in his previous visits to the chimera grounds and never seen anything like the beast before. It lay in the sun, with only one head awake, but not alert. The lion head mewled, mourning its fate. Its paper lantern thin wings stretched on the ground while the dragon and goat heads slept.

This is your cue. Describe the beasts a little more, I get that they have three heads, and that their wings are "paper lantern thin" but is there anything else you can tell us about them. What color are they? Is one of them breathing fire? If so, describe the fire. Like I said, third person relies on the setting and the descriptions. You have a lot of opportunities to weave in imagery and make it a little more "colorful".

It was awing.

Hmm. Maybe you can reword this sentence. I would say something like "The sight of the chimeras made their mouths fall open in awe." Or something to that effect, because I don't see how something can be "awing" it can be "awe-inspiring" but not awing.

The lion head despondently watched Ianos’ approach but roared to awaken the other two heads when Ianos crossed some unknown border. The beast rose to its full height, stretched its wings wide, and bellowed—all three heads created a cacophony of rage.
Ianos snarled and crouched, ready to strike. Electricity spurted from his palms towards the chimera. It dodged at the last second and ran head-on towards the sorcerer. He ran into a cave to his right; he’d have better luck surviving the fight if he was able to corner the animal. The beast skidded, turned, and charged again. Ianos leapt onto its back. He held tightly onto the lion’s neck scruff and struggled to pull a lasso out of his jeans.

WOW... so a lot is going on here. Let's break this down:

The lion head despondently watched Ianos’ approach but roared to awaken the other two heads when Ianos crossed some unknown border.

Again, you have so many opportunities to use imagery to your advantage. This is urban fantasy, imagery is a great asset to this genre, so instead of telling us that the "lion head despondently watched Ianos approach..." show us.

The beast rose to its full height, stretched its wings wide, and bellowed—all three heads created a cacophony of rage.

I'm not sure a "cacophony of rage" is the right choice of words. This is a creature with three heads, we're talking about. What exactly does a "cacophony of rage" coming from them sound like?

Ianos snarled and crouched, ready to strike. Electricity spurted from his palms towards the chimera.

Okay, who in the world is this Ianos guy? He really does have a lot of surprises up his sleeves. I mean, he has a "knowledge of spells" and now he's getting ready to take on a creature who is possibly bigger than him with ELECTRICITY SPURTING FROM HIS PALMS?

Again, who is Ianos?

It dodged at the last second and ran head-on towards the sorcerer.

OKAY...so Ianos is a sorcerer.

He ran into a cave to his right; he’d have better luck surviving the fight if he was able to corner the animal.

It feels like this cave just magically appeared. Where are they exactly? I mean, I know that this is Timmons, but what's it like? I know it's in the mountains, but there are caves....hmm. I can't really picture it in my head.

The beast skidded, turned, and charged again. Ianos leapt onto its back. He held tightly onto the lion’s neck scruff and struggled to pull a lasso out of his jeans.

Okay, Ianos is wearing jeans and he has a lasso. I know that this is urban fantasy, so I am assuming that this story takes place in the modern times, but in the beginning it had this other-worldly feel to it. Like, I thought this took place back in Ancient Greek, and I would honestly be surprised if this actually takes place in, let's say, present-day New York.

I know I already rambled on for a long time, but I just want to give you a quick overview of all of my notes.

1. Use a mixture of short and long sentences. When writing in third person, one thing you want to focus on, is the flow of your sentences. You don't want them to be too wordy, or too vague.

2. Imagery. It's vital. Make sure you weave enough of it into the story to keep your reader intrigued and to hold their attention.

3. Establish your main character. I didn't really know who Ianos was ( I still don't) but it wasn't until later on that I discovered that he was a sorcerer. I would mention that a little earlier, and then work from there.

4. The uses of "they" and "it" made everything impossibly confusing. You want to make sure that you're clear, and be more specific, especially since you're writing in third person.
Thanks for contributing your first page Alicia! I really hope that this wasn't a bunch of nonsense, and that I actually did help out. This is a good skeleton, and I think that with a little more skin and flesh, this could be an amazing first page.

Here is the list of the other betas:

Kate Hart
Meredith Primeau
Windy Aphayrath
Sarah Enni
Corrine Jackson

3 comments:

  1. I've really enjoyed reading this critiques in the Battle of the Betas. I love seeing how other writers do critiques.

    This was very helpful for me. I hope it will be for the writer as well.

    Thanks for sharing. :)

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  2. I think you win for most thorough!

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  3. Really detailed analysis! Great job!

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