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Writing tips and techniques from the publisher of Swimming Kangaroo Books. Send your 3-page writing sample to be critiqued to dindy@swimmingkangaroo.com with the word "critique" in the subject heading. Your submission will be critiqued on the blog, but your name will not be used unless you give permission.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Critique of Still Killing Children

{Editor's comments in blue.]

1950’s Yorkshire

Knowing he should not be daydreaming about inception day when he joined the Royal Air Force, especially whilst at the dance with his beloved wife, Peter was looking back at the reasonably recent and often thought about occurrence which amused him so much. [It is very hard to figure out what the writer is saying in this sentence. There are too many dependent clauses that just don't have anything to do with each other, and the use of the past participle (was looking) immediately removes the reader from the action.]
“Drop your trousers,” was the medical officer’s curt command, as the young men approached him one by one; some embarrassed but, typically when you get a few lads together, others were rather more brazen. [grammar issue, try substituting, "as is typical when a few lads get together"]
Pressing his fingers up into each of their groins, he issued a singular instruction.
It was Peter’s turn now as the non-commissioned officer issued his instruction once more.
“Cough”. Before continuing in a less formal manner, the examiner made a whimsical observation.
“Mark my words young man, you’ll be popular with the girls, those WAAF’s will love a big boy like you; you must have been at the front of the queue when they were handing out mutton daggers. Cough again, harder. Ok! Next.”
His quirky, un-official remark lightened the occasion, helping them all through the rigmarole of the primitive medical check-up, it caused a great deal of amusement among the lads who were still waiting, in alphabetical order of course, each with his waist band and fly buttons undone and at the ready.
I’ll bet his name is Jack, he thought, isn’t he the dull one. Then daring to respond, he slipped in a brazen answer, taking some of the thunder from his superior’s remark. [Tell us who's speaking. When you use a pronoun, make sure the reader can identify to whom it is referring.]
“Not quite at the front, you should see my older brother, he was first in the queue; I was second.”
Not wanting to be outdone by backchat from an erk the sergeant snapped out at Peter.
“Do you want to find yourself on a charge laddie?”
Feeling threatened and flustered, and not wanting to fall foul of the others wrath, especially on the first day, Peter quickly recognised that he was on shaky ground so he dutifully spat out an apology.
“Er! No sir, I mean Sarge, sorry.”
“I should hope so too, you could easily have gotten yourself seven days jinkers, if you carry on like that I’ll see to it that you get cashiered before very long.”
Then in a more relenting manner, and feeling, in front of the line up, that he had recovered his command of the situation, the medic offered a conciliatory observation.
“You don’t want that in your first week, do you? Becoming a Brylcreem Boy should be enough for now. You don’t want a black mark against you at this early stage in your military career.”
“No Sarge, sorry Sarge.”
“Right, let’s get on with this. Next.”
Everyone was glad when the examination was over; the slightest evidence that any one of them showing signs of a hernia knew it would immediately terminate their chances of getting into the Royal Air Force. [Grammar issue: subject-verb are not matched in the second clause. Try "they knew that the slightest evidence that any one of them showed signs of a hernia would result in immediate termination of their chances of getting into the royal air force."] Not a single entrant of the group of the twenty-seven young men had failed the somewhat decisive test. There were sighs of relief all round.
“OK, listen up. Take a form each from the table by the door as you leave. You have the rest of the day to be kitted out. Go to the appropriate departments on the list to get your uniform and other kit.”
One of the lads was about to ask where they should go first but his thoughts were interrupted.
“Use your initiative, if one department has a queue, jump ahead and go back later. You are about to become men, start acting that way. Anybody not completing the job today will most certainly be on a charge.”
Without another word, the sergeant pointed to the door as he glared at the hapless bunch.

Looking forward to joining the RAF, but waiting for the buff envelope to drop on the doormat, holding his call-up papers, Peter Stronglimb was pleased to be going off to serve his Queen and country, a two-year term of National Service was the norm. [This sentence doesn't make sense. It's got too many uncompleted thoughts here. Peter Stronglimb looked forward to joining the RAF, but waiting for the buff envelope holding his call-up papers to drop on the doormat ... what comes next? Peter Stronglimb was pleased to be going off to serve his Queen and country. (Okay. so?) A two-year term of National Service was the norm. (okay, so?)

Having to be away from his wife Christine didn’t go down very well but there was a poor selection of jobs in civvy-street. Inception day had been dealt with without getting into trouble. [But he did get into trouble. He drew the ire of the sergeant and was threatened with being put on a charge.] When the second day dawned, he found that if he wanted to serve merely the obligatory two years, there was a poor choice of trades chalked up on a large blackboard.

Overall Comments: Granted, there is very little of the manuscript to go on, but at this point if is hard to see the point of the entry paragraphs. You start with Stronglimb at a dance with his wife and immediately go into a flashback to his Inception Day, and then seem to go even farther back to his waiting for his call up papers, then once again, back to his inception. The reader is left feeling like a ping pong ball being hit at random. If you want to start with a flashback, then go directly into it-- and make sure the flashback is relevant and purposeful. Is the fact that he is at a dance with his wife relevant and purposeful? Is the process of the hernia exam relevant and purposeful?

My personal preference is for starting the story as late as possible- the reason being that you draw the reader in immediately. Readers of today are impatient- they've grown up with instant gratification and they expect it when they read. They don't want to sit through pages and pages and pages of build up. They want something to happen NOW.



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