What I’m writing: A fantasy novel. Two teenagers from our world – Victor Coburn and Zoe Stockton – are somehow transported into another. There they find themselves on a quest for forbidden knowledge, mixed up in a war, and ultimately called upon to help save all creation. (That sounds really bad written like that. I’ll think about it a bit more…)
Target audience: I’m not aiming at a specific gender right now. Age range is probably something like 13 – 16.
Preferred style of reviews: Spare nothing, but please try to be polite about it.
Best references: My favourite fantasy novels are probably The Belgariad and The Mallorean by David Eddings, but I’m pretty sure I’m writing for a younger audience, haha. Least favourite work . . . I’m probably going to get lynched for this, but the Lord of the Rings trilogy by Tolkein. Only because I felt the narrative was a bit of a drag and a lot of the characters (particularly the women) were a bit flat. All that said, I loved The Hobbit.
Victor swore loudly as a motorcycle raced past, only inches from his feet. The roar of the engine faded into the city traffic as the machine disappeared altogether. Victor quickly lost his scowl, shrugging as his dark eyes resumed their former activity: searching for some way through the maze of cars filling the street. Even though the traffic was basically at a standstill, he had trouble convincing himself that it was safe to cross the street – mostly because of people like that motorcycle rider. Very few motorists, it seemed, paid close attention to 16-year-olds trying to cross the road.
–I think pumping up his motivation might make him more interesting in this paragraph. Good description, though.
After a few seconds more of tentative steps forward, and then hasty steps backwards, Victor sighed and gave up. He glanced at his watch, groaning as he realised that he was already late for work – about seven streets away. Not only that, but his Dad had a meeting in just under an hour and had, somehow, managed to leave all the materials he needed at home.
–Much better, I think.
–I think that the urgency here might be assisted by faster-paced sentences. What would you think about “He glanced at his watch. He was already late for work, seven streets away. And his Dad had a meeting in an hour and had somehow managed to forget all his materials at home.”
Annoyed by the thought that he was going to be late to work because of his forgetful father, Victor didn’t pay much attention as he raced down the street. Instead, he concentrated on exactly what torture he’d put in place for motorcyclists when he was mayor of the city, no, Prime Minister. As he hurried up the steps of the grand office building his father worked in, he had just decided that having their bike torn in to scrap metal before their very eyes would be a suitable punishment for dodging traffic.
–“having their bike torn in to scrap metal before their very eyes would be a suitable punishment.” I”d recommend tightening this a bit. “tearing their bikes into scrap metal before their very eyes would be suitable punishment.”
–I’d think about replacing the phrase with “mayor of the city, no, Prime Minister” with just “Prime Minister” or “mayor” because I think it paces better.
–“had just decided” would probably be smoother as just “decided.”
–I really like the detail about him thinking about tearing their bikes into scrap metal. The humor is subdued but effective.
He opened the doors and entered, mind elsewhere, and he was embarrassed to find himself walking straight into somebody else. “Sorry, wasn’t looking where I was going,” he began automatically, beginning to crouch and gather the papers the person had dropped.
–I feel that this scene is a lot easier to place geographically than the last version.
–“mind elsewhere” sounds kind of awkward or, alternately, British. I’m not sure whether it feels awkward to me just because I’m American or whether a UK/Canadian/Australian/NZ publisher would react similarly.
“That much is obvious.”
–I think this is very smooth. I like the word choice.
Another pair of hands joined his in trying to gather the documents together, but Victor wasn’t paying attention to them any more. He knew that voice. The boy stared in shock at the girl he had bumped into.
–The first sentence here seems unproductive. It could probably be removed.
“Zoe? Zoe from history?”
She rolled her eyes. “No, it’s Zoe from Mars. Honestly. Did Michelle’s stupidity start rubbing off on you?”
–I love this. She strikes me as very well-characterized and more than slightly humorous.
He started moving again as a tall man in a sharp suit pointedly walked around them to get to the door; Victor had forgotten that he was blocking the entrance. By this time, Zoe had managed to gather nearly everything together – she was, of course, Zoe Stockton, and therefore everything she did was done better and quicker. At least, that was what you’d think if you heard the teachers singing her praises; she wasn’t quite as bad a person as they made out. Victor was even willing to forgive the mention of his ex-girlfriend, even though that ship had sailed and been blow apart weeks ago.
–I think the first sentence here helps give us an idea of what’s going on around them, but could probably be shortened.
–The punctuation in this paragraph strikes me as a bit, umm, exotic. There are two semi-colons, many commas and two sentences separated by a hyphen.
“What are you doing here?” Zoe asked him suspiciously, tucking a stray strand of red hair behind her ear.
“Dad was working on some advertising thingy for hours last night,” he explained, “But, being useless as he is, he forgot to take it with him this morning.”
–I really like the word “thingy” here. It really makes him sound like he’s in over his head.
She smiled and shook her head. “Like father, like son.”
“Hey, I’m no where near as forgetful as Dad,” Victor protested.
–This may just be an American thing, but I’d recommend condensing “no where” into one word, nowhere.
“You always forget your homework.”
“Yes, but – that’s homework. It doesn’t count.”
“Very true,” Zoe mused, “You wouldn’t do it even if you did remember.”
He shrugged. “Yeah, well, why waste my time on something I don’t need to do?”
She sighed. “One day, Victor Coburn, I’m going to find out how you manage to do so well in school without trying at all. But not today. See you around, maybe.”
“Why, are you here all day?” he asked, surprised.
She paused long enough to give him an answer. “I’m helping my Mum.”
–There’s a lot of back-and-forth dialogue here, interrupted only briefly by elements other than what the characters are saying. It may be more evocative to mention more about what the characters are doing, what’s going on, the scenery, etc.
–I’m not quite sure what to make of the detail that Victor does very well in school. It may be inconsistent with the characterization of him as a kind of bumbling kid that forgets everything. On the other hand, it’s not so inconsistent that I think it’s particularly important to revise or remove the detail. What do you think?
Then she dashed out of the doors and down the steps to the street. Zoe Stockton was always in a rush. Victor shook his head; he couldn’t understand the need to hurry all the time. Then he suddenly remembered that he had about 45 minutes before Dad’s meeting started and about 15 minutes more before the boss arrived at his own workplace and realised he wasn’t there on time. The boy eyed the lift regretfully as he ran for the stairs, ignoring the strange looks he got from people in the lobby.
–Is the word “then” at the start of this paragraph necessary? I think that the action– her essentially running away from him– would be more sudden and dramatic if it weren’t initiated by a “then.”
His father was normally happy to see him, but as Victor burst through the door he jumped and frowned at his son. It was only after Victor handed over the massive briefcase and his father’s memory stick that the expression cleared.
–I’d suggest switching “frowned” with a more quizzical expression.
“Oooh, I would have missed that during the meeting,” his Dad chuckled (though Victor didn’t see how it was funny), ruffling his son’s dark hair as he had done when he was small. “Thank you.”
He batted his father’s hand off and ducked away. “Yeah Dad, whatever.”
–the parenthetical phrase here is awkward. It’s a long sentence already.
“I’ve seen Clara Stockton’s daughter around today,” Mr. Coburn told his son, almost casually, as he carefully placed the briefcase on his desk. “She’s a nice girl.”
–This seems like an awkward way to introduce the dad’s feelings about Zoe. It may be slightly less awkward if the son brings him his briefcase AND something that Zoe asked him to take up that way.
“She’s alright,” he replied warily.
“Quite pretty, too.”
Victor groaned. Not this again. “Dad!”
–“Not this again” seems to be from Victor’s perspective rather than the narrator’s.
“I’m just saying,” his father answered defensively, holding up his hands. “It’s, you know, an observation.”
“Not a very subtle one . . .” Victor scowled, annoyed by his father’s words – although it wasn’t so much his words as the tone behind them. His Dad was of the mistaken belief that he hadn’t quite “gotten over” Michelle yet and, apparently, a new girlfriend would solve this problem. Even if his father had been right – which he definitely, definitely wasn’t – then Zoe Stockton was not the solution.
–If the tone is what annoys the boy, then it would probably help to mention the tone when the father is first speaking the words.
–“was of the mistaken belief that” could probably be “mistakenly believed that”
–Depending on your style, a zany metaphor or simile might be in order at the end of the paragraph. “Zoe Stockton was not the solution, any more than Victor was a jelly doughnut.”
As his Dad started to say something else, Victor looked at his watch – and grimaced. “Dad, I’m really sorry but I’ve got to go.”
His father looked at the clock on the wall. Scowling, he said, “Christ Vic, didn’t your work start 10 minutes ago? Can’t you keep better time?”
–Haha, I like this.
“Well, I had to come a different way to give you all your stuff for the meeting!” Victor protested
The man’s angry expression dissolved. “I should have known that would be the explanation. I’m sorry; you shouldn’t have to look after your old Dad like this. If I’d remembered everything this morning like I was supposed to . . .”
–I don’t like this paragraph. First, the father comes to appreciate the son’s efforts too quickly. Second, I think that the relationship between the father and son would be more interesting if the father appears to blame the boy for being late to work (when we know that it’s really the father’s fault).
“Yeah Dad, that’s great,” Victor said, concentrating on edging towards the door rather than listening, “Look, save the rant for later, okay? I’ve got to run. Good luck with your meeting!”
–Not necessary, I think.
Without letting his father get another word in, Victor opened the door and stepped outside before slamming it behind him. He felt a little guilty about running from his Dad without even saying goodbye properly, but he was late and getting later by the second. This thought spurred him on as he threw himself down the stairs, hoping that he’d be able to make it to work before he became grounds-for-firing late.
He reached the first floor without incident, dodging around astonished office workers like the rugby star that he was. Victor was starting to feel a little more optimistic about keeping his job when he ran into Zoe Stockton again – literally.
–I’m having trouble visualizing him as a rugby star, but OK.
“Ow!” The girl exclaimed loudly, crashing to the floor and dropping the large stack of files she was carrying. Victor stood sheepishly amongst the mess as she glared up at him. “What the hell, Victor? Are you out to get me today or something?”
–I love her lines here.
“Sorry,” he muttered, helping Zoe to her feet. “I’m not having a good day.”
“You really didn’t have to tell me that,” she answered sourly, “I think I could have worked it out for myself.”
–Her lines may be longer than necessary here. You could probably cut out her first line and use her second instead.
Victor sighed and simply started collecting the files together again as quickly as he could. After a moment, when she’d realised that he was intelligent enough not to get into an argument with her (not right now, anyway), Zoe started to help.
It took well over ten minutes, because Zoe insisted on putting back all the papers into the right files (how she knew, Victor had no idea, and he suspected she was guessing with half of them. He also suspected she would blame those ones on him). By the time it was done Victor looked like he was dancing on coals – every second in Zoe’s company that dragged by reminded him that he was getting closer and closer to a lot of trouble at work (with a capital T).
–I’d recommend axing the phrase “with a capital T.”
He was relieved when the task was finally done. “I’m really sorry about that, Zoe. Anyway, I’ll see you around, I’ve got to–”
“I don’t think so,” Zoe interrupted thunderously, “You are not getting away with this that easily!”
“But I’m late for work,” Victor protested, inwardly groaning as he imagined just what more delay would do to his welcome.
–I dislike some of the phrases here. thunderously is a kind of intrusive word… inwardly groaning seems kind of superfluous…
“Well I don’t care! I’m injured!” she retorted, tossing her hair and glaring. “Besides, aren’t you on the rugby team? This should take you half the time it would take me.”
–“I’m injured!” Haha!
“There’s a big difference between rugby and carrying a bunch of folders–” he began.
Zoe evidently wasn’t listening. She picked up all but three of the folders and dumped them into his arms. “Stop whining and get moving. My Mum’s office is on the tenth floor.”
Victor groaned. “Zoe, I’m going to be so late it’s not even funny . . .”
“Well you should have thought of that before you crashed into me,” she answered. “Come on, we’ll take the lift.”
–Comma after well, I think.
–“Well, you should have thought of that before you crashed into me.” Haha!
–What would you think about ending the chapter here? I didn’t find the next two paragraphs very productive.
He snorted bad-temperedly. “Well, thank God for small mercies. At least we can take the lift.”
Victor Coburn found himself being dragged to the tenth floor, hoping that Zoe’s demands wouldn’t make him as late for work as he suspected they might – not that he could just walk off after running into her like that. And, in all honesty, at this point it probably wouldn’t make much of a difference anyway.