Today’s first-page critique submission is called BLADE OF HEARTS. Take a look. My comments follow.
Banda Sea, Indonesian Islands
12 June, 1994
The shot pounded the confined space of the ship’s bridge with an impossibly loud explosion compared to the handgun's size. The captain slammed into the console and slid to the deck, streaks of bright red blood smearing the panels. A pretty young blonde woman on the deck outside the room screamed and buried her face into the chest of a young man standing next to her. Rough hands reached down and grabbed the ship's captain. Blood sprayed from between his lips on rapid panting gasps as he was dragged through the hatch and onto the aft deck where the rest of the ship's passengers waited, trembling. They tossed him against the bulkhead where he crumpled to the painted metal deck slicked by his quickly pooling blood. Mustering his strength he rolled onto his back and forced himself to sit upright looking into the eyes of his assailant. Thirty years in the Marines meant there was no way he was going to die whimpering or squirming, he would face them, he would not cower.
“I am Colonel Galang,” the leader strode smugly before the trembling group of missionaries, his voice an odd high pitched flat tenor that sounded like he was forcing it to sound more masculine than it naturally was, like a fourteen year old boy trying to sound like a grown man. His face was that of a youth who seemed unnaturally aged. Though the skin was smooth and hairless it held the distinct look that belied a life of violence, like a centuries old vampire trapped in a teenaged body. Galang's lips stretched tight in a frightening imitation of a smile that would've made a pitbull tremble with terror, “I am the most feared pirate in this ocean and you are my prisoners.”
“May God have mercy on your soul when you meet him,” said the captain through pale blue lips.
Colonel Galang glanced over to the gray haired man, his smile briefly faded then snapped back with an intense ferocity and he took three quick steps that brought him in front of the captain.
“No,” he leaned down to his face, “may I have mercy on your god when he meets me.”
Galang stood and reached across his body to a scabbard that hung on a belt around his waist and dragged out a heavy looking machete as long as his arm. He placed the blade on the captain's shoulder and dragged it slowly across the man's neck, eliciting a trickle of blood. The retired Marine officer stared unflinching into Galang's eyes showing neither fear nor contempt, his face registering a sense of pity, as if he knew something more than the pirate leader before him. In a blur of motion, Galang spun a graceful ballet-like pirouette and brought the edge of the machette hard against the captain's neck instantly severing his head with a clean cut. Blood jetted from the stump of the neck as the body remained upright against the bulkhead. The head rolled across the deck halting at the feet of the pretty blonde his lips nearly touching her toes as his mouth stretched in wide, gasping attempts at breath. She swooned into the arms of the young man standing next to her, his face registering every line of terror that the captain's had not.
1: Omniscient point of view is a method of storytelling in which the narrator knows the thoughts and feelings of all of the characters in the story. The advantage to using it is that the storyteller can convey a great deal of information in a short amount of time and space. The disadvantage is that it virtually eliminates a personal connection between the characters and the reader. There’s nothing wrong with that if it’s the goal of the storyteller. That’s what we have here—third person, omniscient POV. What I came away with was a sense that this is a prolog, especially since it is dated 1994.
2: Whose story is it? Not the captain. He’s already lost his head over this. Colonel Galang? Maybe, if the story takes place in 1994. Also maybe, if the story jumps to a future or present time and he continues his pirating ways. The pretty young blond woman? Maybe, although since she wasn’t graced with a name, probably not. The young man? Side note: what does young mean? Eight years old? Eighteen? I’m 65. You can imagine what young means to me.
3: We’ve all heard Professor Jim Bell’s rule: act first, explain later. My compliments to this writer. He/she did just that.
4. The gun shot sounded bigger than the handgun’s size. Was it a derringer or a Dirty Harry .44 magnum? If this is omniscient POV, go ahead and tell us.
5. There’s a whole lot of trembling going on. The rest of the passengers waited, trembling. The figurative pit bull trembled.
6. The second paragraph had a bunch of comparisons including pre-pubescence, hairless skin that gave away a life of violence, and centuries-old vampires (don’t forget the hyphen). Hard to mentally see all those images.
7. Eliciting a trickle of blood? Eliciting? This word choice and visual doesn’t work for me.
8. Graceful ballet-like pirouette? See previous comment.
9. Machete? Machette? Check your spelling.
10. …his mouth stretched in wide, gasping attempts at breath. Impossible. How about: …his mouth frozen in a final, gasp for breath.
I would probably continue to read just to see if the story was about the pretty, young blonde. Hey, I’m a guy. But right now, I feel nothing for any of these characters. That’s not a tragedy. It’s the downside to omniscient POV. Hopefully, the story involves someone I will grow to care about. At this point, who knows. This appears to be an action/adventure story. My kind of book. But the writer has to know what he/she is getting into. There’s a stronger “hook” here than some of the previous first-page submissions, but there be dragons in them waters. Beware.
My hat’s off to the writer for having the courage to submit this sample. Best of luck with your WIP.
So, dear Zoners, what do you think. Would you keep reading or go watch Disney on Ice?