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Fair warning-I'm a pain in the a** tough line editor.

The story itself is off to a good start--you have a desperate situation, two characters in peril, a crash landing into an inhospitable climate--but if you look at McCarthy's writing, you'll see that it's very specific and concrete: "The weeds they forded fell to dust about them. They crossed the broken asphalt apron and found the tank for the pumps. The cap was gone and the man dropped to his elbows to smell the pipe but the odor of gas was only a rumor, faint and stale." He puts you right there in the scene. "Then they set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other's world entire." Sometimes I think he reaches too far, like when he has "ashen daylight congealing over the land" (I have a hard time picturing ash congealing). Or the simile in "Their light playing over the wet flowstone walls. Like pilgrims in a fable swallowed up and lost among the inward parts of granitic beast." (I have to think too hard to see what he's saying there.) But at any rate, he's vivid, he's specific, and he reaches beyond what comes easily to mind. Rather than saying, "there was a city," he says, "the shape of a city stood in the grayness like a charcoal drawing sketched across the waste." That's what your sample is missing. You need to put the reader right there with Lauren and Anise. The first step is usually to put yourself there, immerse yourself in the scene. Unlike your characters, you have the luxury of being able to pause and observe and think about how to convey it.

Overall, what you have is serviceable, but you can take it beyond that. It's just a skill you develop with practice, like anything else. Something that can help is to take your favorite passages from other authors and type them out. It lets you feel how they work in a way just reading can't. Another thing that can help is critiquing others' writing (either at their request or privately, for yourself). Good luck and keep writing!

CJAnderson said:
Lauren and the girl both [not needed] struggled to breathe like trapped rats trapped [moving this upgrades it from an adjective to a verb] in a flooding box. The airship was damaged in a storm and life support systems were failing. [The tell-y-ness of this breaks the tension, plus if you don't spell everything out, you better engage the reader; at some point you'll need to explain about the storm, but this is not that point.] If they the airship did not land soon they would suffocate. Yukon was still far sixty long miles [be specific early on and you won't have to expound later] away and putting the ship down now would mean possible chemical or radiation exposure [Could you paint a more concrete picture? Can Lauren see or hear what's out there? What does what she sees/hears/feels mean?]. It was a risk they had to take.

Sixty long miles from their destination. [see comment above about only having to address Yukon's distance once] With all her heart Lauren hoped the Canadian air would be clean and the sky would be clear. Maybe they could even watch the sun rise if they survived the crash. [This seems a strange thing to be thinking at this juncture, but see comment at end of next paragraph.] The girl Anise was young but she was strong. Her body should not break from the impact and Lauren believed Anise the girl would live. ["The girl" works in the opening sentence, but once you get down here, if you're going to name her, it should be at the first mention of her, not after another "the girl"-it's less confusing to the reader.] In seconds she would know if she was right.

"Close your eyes. Think of something good," said Lauren. [Not really necessary--it's clear who speaks without it.] She didn't want the girl's final thoughts to be filled with terror. Lauren She imagined a safe landing. [The reader knows who "she" would be here.] They would exit the ship and find their new home. A place of peace and love. Wild animals and fresh flowers. Maybe they could even watch the sun rise if they survived the crash. Anise would be a sister to Lauren's son. Together they would raise him and protect him from all harm. [This thinking works better for me here because it comes after she finishes assessing their chances in a crash landing; there's nothing to do now but brace for the impact and hope. But you could also use it to be more specific--"caribou and the delicate petals of fireweed," or whatever.]

Deep footprints in the snow. She looked back at the tracks and wondered how far she'd walked. No sign of the airship. In her arms was Anise. Unconscious but still alive. Lauren had no remembrance of the crash [Is there a better way to say this? If you're in Lauren's head, what does "no remembrance" feel/look like?]. She kept walking. The girl was heavy but Lauren's arms were strong and secure. She would carry Anise with the same strength and compassion that she carried her unborn child. This is why you trained so hard, she thought. [Interrupts the flow, and the next sentence does a fine job without it.] As a soldier she'd learned to transport the weight of an assault rifle and a wounded man. Anise was easy to hold in comparison.

The climb was uphill and sShe plowed [is "plowed" the best word for trudging up a snow-covered hill with the dead weight of an unconscious child in your arms?] uphill through the snow like some tireless blizzardland beast [simile is vague, and a big clue is that it has to rely on "some"--you're about to try to compare one thing to "some" other thing that doesn't exist; similes work because they make a non-concrete thing vivid by attaching it to something concrete: "her anger buzzed like a hornet's nest on a hot August afternoon"]. A mix of adrenaline and ice numbed her body like a perfect drug [simile is vague]. Lauren felt that s [filtering] She could climb forever, and she would do it to save them both.

She reached the top of the hill and a beautiful dawn was there waiting for her like a lover's kiss [figurative language cliched. Instead of telling the reader the dawn was beautiful, put the reader there. What does it look like? What does it sound like? What does it feel like on Lauren's face? In her chest? In her soul?]. [Start a new paragraph here] "Wake up," Lauren whispered. "You have to see this." Anise opened her eyes [how does she open her eyes?] and together they adored the sun like fabled residents of Eden's garden. The warmth of the rays comforted Lauren. [Vague simile, vague description. Be concrete. Put the reader there.] In a rare moment of peace she examined her heart:

No faith in God to give her hope;
She trusted in herself.
No family to offer her affection;
She provided her own love.
No true friends to share in her burdens;
She absorbed all of her pain.

(Copyright 2015, C.J. Anderson)
 

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Z. Rider said:
Fair warning--I'm a pain in the a** tough line editor.

The story itself is off to a good start--you have a desperate situation, two characters in peril, a crash landing into an inhospitable climate--but if you look at McCarthy's writing, you'll see that it's very specific and concrete: "The weeds they forded fell to dust about them. They crossed the broken asphalt apron and found the tank for the pumps. The cap was gone and the man dropped to his elbows to smell the pipe but the odor of gas was only a rumor, faint and stale." He puts you right there in the scene. "Then they set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other's world entire." Sometimes I think he reaches too far, like when he has "ashen daylight congealing over the land" (I have a hard time picturing ash congealing). Or the simile in "Their light playing over the wet flowstone walls. Like pilgrims in a fable swallowed up and lost among the inward parts of granitic beast." (I have to think too hard to see what he's saying there.) But at any rate, he's vivid, he's specific, and he reaches beyond what comes easily to mind. Rather than saying, "there was a city," he says, "the shape of a city stood in the grayness like a charcoal drawing sketched across the waste." That's what your sample is missing. You need to put the reader right there with Lauren and Anise. The first step is usually to put yourself there, immerse yourself in the scene. Unlike your characters, you have the luxury of being able to pause and observe and think about how to convey it.

Overall, what you have is serviceable, but you can take it beyond that. It's just a skill you develop with practice, like anything else. Something that can help is to take your favorite passages from other authors and type them out. It lets you feel how they work in a way just reading can't. Another thing that can help is critiquing others' writing (either at their request or privately, for yourself). Good luck and keep writing!
I would pay you to line edit my work. That was great. Do you offer the service?
 

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Not much to add.

I think that you need to ask the questions: What do I want out of this scene? How do I want to play it? What's important? What can wait until later?

That goes with everything that you write. Those are the sorts of questions that increase your skill over time. Go through your manuscripts asking those few questions over and over again, and pretty soon that becomes an ingrained habit.

However, nothing is as good as a good editor.
 

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My philosophy:  Writing is an art.  Publishing is the business of selling that art.

You have fantastic covers and that is probably 80% of getting a book sold.  I remember a few days ago reading the look inside of Enter Ruinland after a post requesting assistance for something.  (I don't recall off the top of my head, maybe a blurb help thread or regarding reviews).  For me it was a difficult read.  There was a lot of narration and detail conveyed directly to the reader, absent characters.  It reminded me of reading a history book heavy with existentialism and it made it hard for me to get vested into the story.   

Is this good or bad?  I'm not one to make that distinction.  Every author has a style, but can you find the right audience for that style?  It's going to be a tough sell for Salvador Dali at an Impressionism convention.  But if you know your audience and target that audience who like this style of writing and this genera, you will do very well.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Z,

Thanks for the detailed feedback  8)  I will keep everything in mind.

Are you a fan of McCarthy?
 

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CJAnderson said:
Lauren and the girl both struggled to breathe like trapped rats in a flooding box.
This is an ambiguous sentence. Are they struggling to breathe, looking like trapped rats? Or are they struggling to breathe like trapped rats? As written, it could be either one. Consider:

Lauren and the girl both struggled to breathe like trapped rats in a flooding box.

"No," the director said, sounding exasperated. "That's not right at all. You need to look terrified. Like this," she added, making an exaggerated gulping face. "You're supposed to be drowning, not acting drunk."

Lauren tore off her rat mask, exasperated. "That's what I was trying to do."

"Well, you're not. Either of you. Take it again from the top."
 

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CJAnderson said:
Are you a fan of McCarthy?
I don't know if I'd go as far as "fan." I enjoy his style but often feel at too much of a remove from his characters. Blood Meridian was especially like that for me. Great sentences, great scenes, but it was like trying to touch far-away people through a piece of glass. So I read him for the fun of the way he puts words together, but if I'm looking to get sucked into a western, I'll sooner reach for Larry McMurtry or Dorothy M. Johnson (who sadly did not write enough).
 

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CJAnderson said:
I am a big fan of Cormac McCarthy (The Road, No Country for Old Men, etc) and his writing style definitely influences me. A big difference is that I use quotation marks and he doesn't. His style is eloquent and poetic (in my opinion) and I try to emulate it but at the same to be unique. I am still a new writer so I welcome all feedback. This is a sample from a future book I am writing:
First of all, I have to say this - you've got guts. It's not easy to put a sample of your writing out on a forum like this.

For what it's worth, I liked it. However, that's just an opinion. If you got a hundred people to critique it in detail, you'd probably get a hundred and ten opinions. That's just the nature of critiquing. What's more, what some people absolutely love others will hate with a burning vengeance. And vice versa.

Statistically you need a lot more than a hundred people anyway to get a fair idea of how well your writing resonates. And it would help a lot if they read in your genre.

If I've learned anything in this business it's this: people have different tastes. Whether they're writers, readers or editors - they all have their own personal preferences. Try not to be swayed by them too much. Stick to what you believe (so long as you can justify your artistic choices by cool hard logic) and trust to your own voice.

OK, now that I've got my homespun philosophizing out of the way, I have a few tips (personal preferences) for you to consider.

"This is why you trained so hard, she thought." When you're revealing a character's thoughts it's not necessary to use italics as well as a tag like "she thought." One or the other does the job. Actually, there's a style where the characters' thoughts and the narration bleed into one another to the point where pretty much everything comes across as the character's thoughts. There's no italics, no thought tags involved with that style at all, and it creates a strong sense of immediacy without being in first person. It's got a technical name which I can't think of at the moment, but it's worth thinking about. I always (personal preference again) find italics and thought tags clumsy and distracting.

That's all I really have to say. It's not clear if the sample you offered was right from the beginning of the first chapter or taken from elsewhere in the book. If it's from chapter one, I would have additional comments.

One other thing. The quote thingy at the bottom of your signature is pretty darn good!

Hope that helps.
 

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Z. Rider said:
Fair warning--I'm a pain in the a** tough line editor.
Something that can help is to take your favorite passages from other authors and type them out. It lets you feel how they work in a way just reading can't.
I love that idea! This is the first time I've ever heard it, but it makes so much sense.
 

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Discussion Starter #19
Jack Krenneck said:
First of all, I have to say this - you've got guts. It's not easy to put a sample of your writing out on a forum like this.

For what it's worth, I liked it. However, that's just an opinion. If you got a hundred people to critique it in detail, you'd probably get a hundred and ten opinions. That's just the nature of critiquing. What's more, what some people absolutely love others will hate with a burning vengeance. And vice versa.

Statistically you need a lot more than a hundred people anyway to get a fair idea of how well your writing resonates. And it would help a lot if they read in your genre.

If I've learned anything in this business it's this: people have different tastes. Whether they're writers, readers or editors - they all have their own personal preferences. Try not to be swayed by them too much. Stick to what you believe (so long as you can justify your artistic choices by cool hard logic) and trust to your own voice.

OK, now that I've got my homespun philosophizing out of the way, I have a few tips (personal preferences) for you to consider.

"This is why you trained so hard, she thought." When you're revealing a character's thoughts it's not necessary to use italics as well as a tag like "she thought." One or the other does the job. Actually, there's a style where the characters' thoughts and the narration bleed into one another to the point where pretty much everything comes across as the character's thoughts. There's no italics, no thought tags involved with that style at all, and it creates a strong sense of immediacy without being in first person. It's got a technical name which I can't think of at the moment, but it's worth thinking about. I always (personal preference again) find italics and thought tags clumsy and distracting.

That's all I really have to say. It's not clear if the sample you offered was right from the beginning of the first chapter or taken from elsewhere in the book. If it's from chapter one, I would have additional comments.

One other thing. The quote thingy at the bottom of your signature is pretty darn good!

Hope that helps.
Jack,

I have to agree and it seems that each reader can have a different capacity for understanding and imagination. What makes sense to one person may be confusing to the next.
 

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I really like the style of your prose. I'm a fan of poetic sentences. I think the only thing I would say is that there are a few too many similes (my subjective opinion) in such a short space. I like similes a lot but spaced out a bit more.
 
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