Critique Feedback

If you didn’t already know, Beth down at Writing It Out recently hosted a critique session, and I was lucky enough to have been critiqued.

I learnt several things from the comments. The bad news is that the readers weren’t hooked (crap!), but the good(ish) news is, their complaints were all the same, and they’re all pretty simple.

Things Done Well:

  • The beginning. They loved it. I don’t think there was a single person who didn’t comment on the earthquake.
  • Writing style

Things To Improve:

  • Mentioning the time and the Richter Scale. Seemed to modern.
  • To many details in the opening.
  • Atlas, the MC, doesn’t seem 3D

There were other things, but they were the main ones. And it’s a shame, because I really like the opening I already had, but, I have to do what needs to be done.

Other Things To Change:

  • Change ‘Domesticated Animals’ to ‘Farm Animals’
  • Introduce Atlas earlier. Perhaps with roof falling on him.
  • Remove repetition in one paragraph. I used same term a couple of times.
  • Play around with the opening, two people commented I should start a bit later in the tale.
  • Combine the first two paragraphs by cutting down on the details.

So, as you can see, there is a bit to do. I think some of the confusion came from me excluding the time, date and location that appears in the top corner.
And so, after all the fixing up, I came up with three possible openings. I still think the original is the best, but no one seems to agree.  I’ve posted the three possible openings below, to where they ended on the original. Feel free to have a look at them if you like, and if you do, let me know what you think.

Possible Opening #1:
June 12, 1420BC
Island in the Mediterranean Sea

The earthquake hit a few minutes past midnight. It was one of a kind – so powerful, nothing of the same force had ever been felt on the earth. However, the majority of the catastrophic force sent by the quake was absorbed by a single, oblong island, positioned in the Mediterranean Sea.
The effect was immediate on the island. In the islands sole city, flimsy timber houses were flattened instantly, the occupants either killed or running from the rubble screaming in terror, many falling due to the violence of the shaking earth. Wooden walls toppled over, and farm animals – pigs, goats and horses – scurried off away from the city, seeking non existent shelter. Entire forests were unearthed, and large faults opened up, displacing large amounts of rocks and dirt.
Then, it was all over.
Only one resident of the city was awake at the time of the quake. Atlas, one of the islands greatest warriors, had been sitting on the sandy beach at the time of the earthquake, musing at his failed attack on Athens. When the brutal rumble had ceased, Atlas picked himself up off the sand. Almost immediately, he knew something was wrong. Water lapped at his toes, and he frowned. The water was eating the beach. Then he heard the screams.
Atlas raced back towards the city, and his home. Arriving at what was left of his house, he let out a horrified roar of emotional pain. Tears swelled in his eyes, as he desperately dug at the rubble. He found a hand, who he identified to be his wife’s, and he pulled at it, but it was no use. She was dead. Tears poured freely, and he tried to find his teenage son. Atlas dug desperately for a few minutes, when through the silence of the night, he heard sobbing. A faint glimmer of hope surged, and he dug furiously. He found a foot belonging to his son, and he dug around it, uncovering his son, miraculously alive.
“Minos!” Atlas shouted in happiness, grabbing his son, and holding him tight. “Are you injured?”
“No, father.” Minos sobbed.
In the distance, Atlas could hear a crowd wailing in distress.
“Come, Minos. We must join the others. We must make sure we save who we can.”
“What of mother?” Minos asked.
“She is… I was too late.”
Atlas walked in silence with his shocked son, quickly arriving in what was left of the city centre. Of the original 10 000 inhabitants of the city, fewer than 300 were left alive. When he arrived, the crowd gathered around him, begging him to take charge and help. Standing on a pile of rubble, he bellowed:
“People of this city! The Gods have sent a curse to us, for failing the capture of Athens. Our King and Queen are dead, and our houses destroyed. Many of us have been killed, and I have seen the curse from Poseidon!”

Possible Opening #2:
June 12, 1420BC
Island in the Mediterranean Sea

Atlas was jolted awake by a violent shuddering of his wooden house,  and the screams of terror from his wife. Around him, the walls shook brutally, and sections of the roof were falling in. Looking outside the window, Atlas noticed the trees being unearthed, as if by an invisible giant shaking them out of the ground. A terrible creaking sound was heard, and Atlas looked up at the roof, the source of the noise. It gave once last creak, and fell in on the hut.
Adrenaline pumping, Atlas rolled off the small hay bed, and onto the floor. His wife shrieked, and attempted to move out of the way, but to no prevail. The heavy timber ceiling slammed down on her distraught body, crushing her instantly.
Then it was over.
Atlas swallowed, terror and grief welling up inside him. Suddenly, the wall behind him groaned, and fell in. It crushed down on Atlas’s tall and muscular body, slamming him to the ground.
Head throbbing from a wooden plank to the head, Atlas heaved the wall off of him. His once golden beard was stained red by a cut. A  similar cut sat on his forehead. As he sat amidst the rubble, he heard a tiny sob. Immediately, his ears pricked up. “Minos! Minos, where are you?” He called.
“Father! Father!” His teenage son called out. A faint glimmer of hope surged, and he dug furiously through the ruins. He found a foot belonging to his son, and he dug around it, uncovering his son, miraculously alive.
“Minos!” Atlas shouted in happiness, grabbing his son, and holding him tight. “Are you injured?”
“No, father.” Minos sobbed.
In the distance, Atlas could hear a crowd wailing in distress.
“Come, Minos. We must join the others. We must make sure we save who we can.”
“What of mother?” Minos asked.
“She is… I was too late.”
Atlas left the wreckage, his son trailing silently behind him. He glanced at the beach, which was nearby, and gasped. He sprinted towards the ocean, stopping at the beginning of the sand. Water licked his toes, where there should have been a large sandy beach.
Atlas stared at the sight, dumbfounded, when the wailing returned. The great warrior took one last look, and moved away, heading towards the wailing. He walked in silence with his shocked son, quickly arriving in what was left of the city centre. Of the original 10 000 inhabitants of the city, fewer than 300 were left alive. When he arrived, the crowd gathered around him, begging him to take charge and help. Standing on a pile of rubble, he bellowed:
“People of this city! The Gods have sent a curse to us, for failing the capture of Athens. Our King and Queen are dead, and our houses destroyed. Many of us have been killed, and I have seen the curse from Poseidon!”

Possible Opening #3:
June 12, 1420BC
Island in the Mediterranean Sea

Amidst the carnage and the stench of death of what was once a great and powerful city, the islands greatest warrior, Atlas walked in silence, dumbfounded at what he had witnessed inn the previous five minutes. He headed towards what was once the city centre, his teenage son, Minos, trailing silently behind.
Emerging at the centre, he was met by his close friend, Brisan, who was closely followed by a large crowd of wailing citizens, all mourning the loss of their houses and loved ones.
“Atlas!” Brisan said. “You must take charge. The people, they need a leader.”
“Aye,” Atlas replied. “I have scouted the area, and I have bad news.” Atlas stood up upon a large pile of rubble, with the few survivors, less than 300 of the original 10 000 occupants, crowding around him.
“People of this city! The Gods have sent a curse to us, for failing the capture of Athens. Our King and Queen are dead, and our houses destroyed. Many of us have been killed, and I have seen the curse from Poseidon!”

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4 Responses to Critique Feedback

  1. Merrilee says:

    Opening one is too passive and distant. Opening two is better, but the writing needs tightening – too ‘tell-y’. Opening three sounds like the opening of a greek tragedy, and is far too cliche.

    My humble opinion 🙂

  2. Thanks for sharing your opinion. They do need editing, but I wanted to share, so I know which to focus on.

  3. beth says:

    I’m so glad that you found the critique sessions helpful! That has made my day!

    Personally, I like the second opening SO MUCH more than the others. Starting with Atlas is a great idea, makes it very presonal. One thing you might want to explore is more emotion from Atlas when she sees his wife dead. Really put us in the moment, and keep us in grief with him awhile longer.

    But the good news is that you do have a plan in place and you do know where you’re going! Being lost and confused is *so* much worse!

  4. SaintAsh says:

    Aren’t critiques wonderful? Once you get past the feeling of having your hard work slashed to ribbons, anyway. 😀

    I’m another fan of Option #2. It’s much more intimate and gripping for the reader than the other versions. Something you may want to watch out for if you take this route: pick and choose for your description. Some of the action moments are cluttered up by description, losing their effectiveness.

    Example: “It crushed down on Atlas’s tall and muscular body, slamming him to the ground.” This is a very tense moment for the reader, but describing Atlas’ physique detracts from the action because it has little to do with what’s happening.

    “His once golden beard was stained red by a cut.” This works much better in terms of weaving description into the scene. The reader learns that Atlas is a blond in a way that has to do with the main point — he’s been injured.

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