Last week, Graham won a little contest that I sponsored in this forum, and he chose a critique of a Writing Challenge entry as his prize. He has graciously offered to make this critique public, so that you all could benefit from reading it, too. Thanks, Graham!
Here's a link to his story, Dead or Alive
. I'd recommend that you read it from the link first, and try to find some strengths and weaknesses. What would you say about it, if you were to give it a detailed critique? Then come back here and read what I had to say to Graham.
Afterward, I'd love to read any reactions you have. Since a critique is largely a matter of opinion, there will surely be places where your critique differs from mine. Graham has already seen this, and we've corresponded genially about some areas where we disagree. Since Graham is willing--let's dissect this piece!Dead or Alive
It was no more than a faint noise; distant, soft, almost unheard. The semicolon in the first sentence should be a dash. Semicolons should be used to separate two independent clauses.
But Eli knew that noise and had no doubt about its meaning. The enemy were approaching.
The slow whine would increase in tempo and be replaced by a faint beat; another semicolon—this one should be a comma
like small I generally think less is more for adjectives. In this case, you probably don’t need ‘small’
, marching feet in the distance. Next would come a swishing sound beating at the air; delete semicolon
until the wings of a thousand demons were pounding the air like base bass
drums. If prayer failed, all would be replaced by clanging swords, buzzing arrows and thudding battle axes; use a dash here to indicate a sudden change in the direction of the sentence
not to speak of the screams and moans of the wounded.
A small whine, I added a comma here
but a very large army approaching, put thoughts in italics
thought Eli as he cast a fervent look at the angel beside him; replace semicolon with period
"Have they even started to pray?"
"I changed single quotes to double
No! They're too busy arguing about raptures and tribulations."
"What? Are you saying...?"
"Eli, their end time theology is nonexistent."
"And they have no idea of what's coming their way?"
"Mercy. Are they going to get pummelled! Come on; replace semicolon with dash
we'd better get a move on."
Quickly the two angels ran from the church car park and headed up town. They had to pay someone a visit.
"Do you think she'll make a difference, Eli?"
"Bound to. This old darling is regarded as too old and feeble in the head. But she'll stop them fighting and start them praying."
"But will the church members take any notice of her?"
"If they don't, I added a comma here
then I pity them. This lady is nothing but pure fire when it comes to fighting for the Lord. She's the one who told them to hold tonight's prayer meeting; replace semicolon with comma
but then took sick and couldn't get there herself."
As they approached the house, I added a comma here
the soft I wouldn’t use ‘soft’ here. One adjective is enough, and ‘soft’ generally has a positive connotation
, distant whine of the approaching enemy was overshadowed by a low chant; replace semicolon with comma
just audible and coming from the house.
"Didn't expect anything else." Eli crept to a window and peeked in. "Yep. Sick or not, she's on her knees and talking. Come on."
As the two angels entered Granny May's parlor, the old lady paused, lifted her head, cocked one ear towards the ceiling and her voice took on an excited edge; replace semicolon with period
"They're here, Father. I just felt 'em walk in. I know they're here."
She paused to listen before replying; "Yes sir, Lord. If You say so."
Another slight pause before; My choice would be to delete ‘before’ and put a period after ‘pause.’
"Lord, it don't matter how I feel; this semicolon is correct
if they'll support me I'll walk between 'em."
As she tried to rise from her knees, she fell face first and would have crashed to the floor, delete comma
if four strong hands had not quickly caught her arms and lifted her.
Supported on either side, she headed for the church.
As she stumbled through the front doors, eyes quickly turned and folks jumped to their feet in concern.
"Granny," cried one young lady, "You you
shouldn't be up and about."
"Granny May," called a man from the front, "let me get someone to take you home."
"Now you all listen up and listen good. While you're all here debatin' and fussin' about what's acomin', well, what's acomin' is almost here. Don't you realise the Pharisees and Sadducees made exactly the same mistake. Before they could finish debatin' if He was the Messiah or not, darn me if they hadn' up and killed Him. Don't think it'll be any different this time. If you don't want to miss what's acomin', well then, you best get out of your head and onto your knees." It’s apparent from your spelling and some of your usages (‘car park’ instead of ‘parking lot,’ for example), that you’re a UK writer. Yet Granny May appears to have a rural or Southern US accent. If you’re going to place her in the US, use US English in the rest of the piece. Alternatively, give her a rural (English? Aussie?) dialect.
Everyone looked at Granny with stunned silence as she let both barrels fly. "Stop fussin' 'n' fightin' with each other and start fightin' the enemy. Spiritual warfare means just that. Spirits, both good and evil, are gunna gonna
fight for your souls today. And the good'ns are going to need your prayers. Demons 're real and you can either fight 'em off with prayer or spend eternity conversin' with 'em later."
Then, before their very eyes, Granny May simply disappeared as the front doors burst open and a young man came running in; replace semicolon with period
"I've got bad news. We just called by Granny May's place. She's dead! We found her lying on the parlor rug."
Those that were there looked blankly at each other before the pastor spoke; replace semicolon with period
"I think we had better all pray."
The rest of the critique will cover the judges’ criteria when rating a challenge entry.1. HOW WELL DID IT FIT THE TOPIC?
While ‘whining’ was mentioned more than once, it wasn’t absolutely essential to the story. Nevertheless, it added important imagery to the story. I’d give this a 3.5 (out of a possible 5).2. HOW CREATIVE UNIQUE, AND FRESH WAS THIS ENTRY? HOW MEMORABLE?
Stories about spiritual warfare are not uncommon. However, this one had some creative twists (Granny May’s surprise death, for example). I’d give this a score in the 3.8 – 4.2 range.3. HOW WELL CRAFTED WAS THIS ENTRY
(overall crafting of the writing, including grammar and predictability)? Although there were frequent semicolon errors and a few other mechanical issues, the writing held my interest all the way through. It was well-plotted, and the characterization of Granny May was top-notch. Pacing was good. You have varied sentence and paragraph structures, giving the story a nice sense of flow. 4.54. DID IT START WELL?
The beginning paragraphs were among the strongest here, with superb imagery leading up to the introduction of your angel characters, letting your readers know exactly what sort of story we can expect. You’ve started out with conflict, one of the essential elements of a good short story. 5
.5. DID IT COME TO A SATISFYING CONCLUSION?
The surprise twist (Granny’s death) is outstanding. I think the last sentence is a bit of an anticlimax after that (blank looks, the pastor’s rather bland pronouncement). I’d suggest ending as it began—with strong sensory images. Perhaps the sounds of the congregation falling to their knees, the wings of thousands of angels rushing in, something like that. I’d give this a score in the low 4 range.6. DID IT HAVE A CLEAR POINT OR MESSAGE?
Absolutely, and it was achieved without being overly wordy or preachifying. Granny’s one longish speech gets the point across, but it’s written in an entertaining fashion. 5.7. DID IT FLOW SMOOTHLY FROM START TO FINISH
(no detours or rough bits)? Yes. From the first sentence, the story marches onward, with its changes of scenery (heaven, Granny’s house, the church) seamlessly achieved. 5.8. HOW PUBLISHABLE IS THIS ENTRY FOR ITS TARGET AUDIENCE?
The target audience for this story is mature Christians who are interested in this genre (spiritual warfare, end times). Some people in this audience may feel that this story is quite similar to others they have read. People who are newer to this genre will certainly be enthralled. The death of Granny is a great twist; to earn a higher score, one more unique idea would be needed. 4.29. HOW WELL DID IT CONNECT WITH OR INVOLVE THE READER?
No problems with this criterion. 5.
So--now that you've read the story and the critique, do you have any reactions? Are there places where you disagree with me? Anything I've said that you don't understand? Let's talk.