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First Page: Mortal Sin, Paranormal Romance

Welcome to First Page Saturday. Individual authors anonymously send a first page read and critiqued by the Dear Author community of authors, readers and industry others. Anyone is welcome to comment. You may comment anonymously. You can submit your own First Page using this form.


“Sarah I really don’t want to be here?” Said Karly.

Karly tapped Sarah’s shoulder when she ignored her.

“Why are you ignoring me?” Said Karly.

“Shhh or they’re going to hear us.” Sarah said in a whisper.

Shaking her head Karly checked her arms to make sure she had her knifes sheaved.

“As if I care. Lets hurry up and get this knocked out, I’m beat.”

Sarah scoffed. “You haven’t done anything today except go to that council meeting.”

Lifting her chin Karly said. “Yes and that should say enough. I wish I never went. Those idiots had me clutching my chest from the heart attack they were about to give me. I swear if the meeting had not ended when it had; I would have died of boredom.”

Sarah quirked her brow and chuckled.

“Yeah I’m sure you would have.”

A noise from the caves alerted them. They crouched low to the ground, staying hidden behind a pair of bushes. They watched as a Hobgoblin came out he looked slowly around before turning back inside the cave.
Hobgoblins were starting to become an increasingly alarming issue; as of five months ago. A lot of children Sidhe and human were going missing. It seemed as if everywhere she looked there was a Missing Persons sign posted. Hobgoblins were loathsome creatures who liked to kidnap children and do unspeakable things to them. The last time they went on a case that involved the vermin she was sent to the onsite therapist for having random vicious outburst. Her “random outburst” helped her eliminate the nightmares she was forced to deal with for those five months of her life. So if she kicked some pedophiles ass, or slapped some abuser here an there that was fine by her.

“Okay lets go. You take the rear, move as one; no mistakes. This nest is the larger then the last one by far.” Sarah said as she stealthily moved from behind the bushes.

“Yup, lets get this part started. We don’t want to be late.” Karly said moving behind Sarah.

They moved up to the cave in a low crouch, using the bushes and trees as coverage. Both wearing black leather catsuits, they were like shadows.

As they walked up to the hidden cave she got a whiff of decomposing flesh. A smell that she had come to identify all to well. Knowing there MO she did not want to find out what was in there decaying, but it was their job to keep the city clean of miscreants so that’s exactly what they were going to do. Stepping over a stone while ducking her head into the cave entrance she was jolted into the past. She remembered going deep into a cave where she smelt rotting flesh and the stench had gotten stronger with every step. As she turned that corner the sight she had seen made her want to rip out her heart. There were multiple children in cages ranging from ages four years old to thirteen. The skin on their little bodies had been peeled and the raw meat was exposed showing stretched muscle. The bodies were covered in maggots. She had to look away briefly to keep her composure, after she took in a shaky breath she stalked over to the cages. The bodies were covered in tiny bite marks. She was shaking with so much anger that black spots started to filter into her vision. She remembered unsheathing her steel Katana blade from her back and readying the blade for revenge. Calm washed over her; the comforted feeling she got right before she dealt deaths. She was going to enjoy tearing these Goblins apart, all while doing it slowly. She moved through the caves caverns, rolling her wrist to adjust the long blade to the caves walls. Waiting for her opportune moment to attack; to her disappointment the nasty things had already moved on, leaving only the stench of death and bodies for them to clean up. She searched the caves one more time making sure they were really gone.

As she came back around towards the center of the cave the Murder Technicians MTs were pulling the bodies out of the cages tagging them. She had called them in after her initial walk through. The process was fast you took finger prints and/or DNA samples. But since the skin was gone they had to take tissue samples.

Mark the tech she was aquatinted with waved her on. He knew that she wasn’t going to stick around and watch the children be bagged. It was  good that the children had been reunited with their families, finally being laid to rest but it was times like that, that made her job hard. It was also times like that, that brought her back to work every morning; back to the cave she was in now. She watched Sarah still, She put her hand up signaling Karly to stop.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

53 Comments

  1. JB Hunt
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 06:51:01

    Whaaaaaaaat?

    ReplyReply

  2. Melissa
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 07:25:35

    What JB Hunt said.

    Also, this is the first time that I’ve read a First Page feature and felt like it needed a trigger warning.

    ReplyReply

  3. DS
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 07:39:32

    The bad formatting led to skimming. I read a lot of crime procedurals where sometimes it seems the authors try to out do one another with the grue, so I wasn’t horrified by the descriptions. Odd to see it here though.

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  4. Jane Davitt
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 07:40:52

    Is this meant to be taken seriously? The punctuation/formatting issues alone make it unreadable and I had to skim the bits about the children which were way too graphic for my taste.

    Whoever wrote this needs to look at a book to see how dialogue is handled, then read a few basic grammar guides. Grammar and spelling are not optional extras and I’m having trouble finding more than a handful of sentences free from errors.

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  5. Dani Alexander
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 07:43:38

    Agree with the other two commenters. What!? And had this been edited even once? Even a basic proofread?

    Listen, it takes a huge amount of courage to put your work up here, but this seems disrespectful of the readers. There are numerous typos, malaproprisms and the formatting is wonky. Numerous. And, yes, it might need at least a trigger warning for “gore”.

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  6. Angela
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 07:54:09

    I’m with the others, this is hard to follow. Formatting issues made it difficult for my eyes to find their way. Simple grammatical errors are riddled throughout.

    I agree it takes a lot of courage to put your work up here, but this really needs to be proof-read by the author, because there are sentences that don’t even make sense in addition to the numerous grammatical errors.

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  7. Ros Clarke
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 07:57:09

    I’m wondering if it went up be mistake, actually. First Pages are normally on Saturday and Jane puts in a little intro.

    ReplyReply

  8. Lauren
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 08:01:00

    This is why I always feel sorry for grade five teachers who have to read creative writing assignments. Slogging through this in the evening? No thanks.

    ReplyReply

  9. Jenny Lyn
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 08:25:19

    “I couldn’t get past the first sentence?” Said Jenny.

    ReplyReply

  10. Dani Alexander
    Apr 21, 2012 @ 06:10:58

    “Sarah I really don’t want to be here?” Said Karly.

    Karly tapped Sarah’s shoulder when she ignored her.

    “Why are you ignoring me?” Said Karly.

    Try something like this instead: “Sarah I really don’t want to be here?” Karly tapped Sarah’s shoulder. “Why are you ignoring me?”

    You don’t need the speech attribute here because you have the persons speaking doing an action. Readers will understand that.

    “Shhh or they’re going to hear us.” Sarah said in a whisper.

    Sarah can just “whisper” She doesn’t need it “Said in a whisper”.

    Shaking her head Karly checked her arms to make sure she had her knifes sheaved.

    Did you mean “sheathed”? Sheathed in what? It’s on her arm, sheathed in what? That’s different enough that a reader would question it.

    “As if I care. Lets hurry up and get this knocked out, I’m beat.”

    Sarah scoffed. “You haven’t done anything today except go to that council meeting.”

    We don’t know who Sarah is, other than someone ignoring her friend. How does Sarah “scoff” Does she laugh under her breath? Does she blew air through her lips? Wrinkle her nose? Let us get to know Sarah here.

    Lifting her chin Karly said. “Yes and that should say enough. I wish I never went. Those idiots had me clutching my chest from the heart attack they were about to give me. I swear if the meeting had not ended when it had; I would have died of boredom.”

    See, up to this point I thought Sarah and Karly were teenagers. But teenagers are unlikely to use the term “having a heart attack”. At least no teenager I know. My niece has made comments about ME getting a heart attack. That could be me nitpicking here. Someone else might say differently.

    Sarah quirked her brow and chuckled.

    “Yeah I’m sure you would have.”

    Are these two different speakers? If not, the action attributed to the speaker should be on the same line as the dialogue.

    A noise from the caves alerted them. They crouched low to the ground, staying hidden behind a pair of bushes. They watched as a Hobgoblin came out he looked slowly around before turning back inside the cave.

    What kind of noise? What is a hobgoblin. Give some small description of one here. Big? Green? Small? Sharp teeth? No need to info dump, though, a small clue/hook of what the thing looks like.

    Hobgoblins were starting to become an increasingly alarming issue; as of five months ago. A lot of children Sidhe and human were going missing. It seemed as if everywhere she looked there was a Missing Persons sign posted. Hobgoblins were loathsome creatures who liked to kidnap children and do unspeakable things to them. The last time they went on a case that involved the vermin she was sent to the onsite therapist for having random vicious outburst. Her “random outburst” helped her eliminate the nightmares she was forced to deal with for those five months of her life. So if she kicked some pedophiles ass, or slapped some abuser here an there that was fine by her.

    Children Sidhe? Or children of Sidhe? Sidhe children? That needs to be specificied. I don’t know what a random outburst is. I’m assuming you’re alluding to her taking it out physically on “pedophiles” and “abusers” but it’s too disconnected for me.

    THis is as far as I got. There was far too much telling and far too many errors for me to continue. Not to mention I was a little angry there was no introduction as to the possible triggers for some people. TBH, I felt like this was two teenagers and very YA. I don’t know if that’s the writing or the dialogue, but the characters felt very young. Maybe that’s what you were going for? FOr me they felt very 16/17. “As if I care” “Why are you ignoring me?” “died of boredom” It sounds like me when I was 16.
    Good luck and I love the idea of hobgoblins–that’s new, at least for me =).

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  11. follow-up on getting kids to read, and more links « Requires Only That You Hate
    Apr 21, 2012 @ 06:20:03

    [...] This “first page” at Dear Author is what, I imagine, functional illiteracy is like. “Sarah I really don’t want to be here?” Said Karly. [...]

  12. Lori Green
    Apr 21, 2012 @ 09:23:14

    You have a good idea here but right now the mistakes in the text are keeping your idea from coming to fruition.

    As much as writing is dependent on strong stories, you need to know the basics before you do anything else: sentence structure, appropriate attributions and basic punctuation.

    You also need a good bet reader (or a few) who can help you see the inconsistancies. You have the two women see a Hobgoblin and then a few moments later you say that they’ve already moved on and none are there.

    Also for the woman attending the council meeting she claims she almost had a heart attack (which would indicate surprise or activity) yet then she said it was boring.

    Again, it’s a good story idea that I see here but you’re far from bringing it to publication. Learn your craft first and then you’ll probably knock our socks off.

    ReplyReply

  13. theo
    Apr 21, 2012 @ 09:48:44

    This showed up in my RSS feed on Thursday, but was gone when I went looking for it.

    I have to wonder if English isn’t this author’s first language because of the grammar structure. I’m willing to give our grade five teachers a break here ;o)

    That said, this first page makes no sense to me. I take it there are two women/teenaged girls? waiting in the bushes to infiltrate the Hobgoblin’s lair to what, wipe them out? Okay, I can see why they would want to be quiet in their approach.

    I see that a Hobgoblin comes out, looks around and then retreats to his cave.

    However! And this is putting aside the horrible grammar, punctuation and poor formatting issues which are endless here, why would they be quiet in their approach if there’s a Murder Technician team crawling all over the place, pulling bodies from cages and just generally making a ridiculous amount of noise as they are wont to do? Why would the Hobgoblin, if I’m to take it that he and his cohorts are the ones killing the children, poke his head out, look around and retreat? If they are the cause, they should have all hi-tailed it out of there at the first little sound. Not waited until after the MT team is done. So I’m left scratching my head because it makes no sense.

    But then in the next section, you say they’ve all moved on, so which is it? One of them looks around? Or they’ve all fled? Which is it? Inconsistencies in stories are a reader turn off and if you have them all over the first page, readers won’t go any farther.

    Also, you need to get your facts straight. DNA samples can be taken from just about anything including dried blood. Since these children would be covered in it according to your description, the tissue samples, unless there’s a good reason to take them at the scene, would be useless. If you’re going for the shock value, find something else.

    I agree, it takes great courage to put anything out there and sometimes, the people who comment here can seem pretty harsh though we all only have your best interest in mind, but in this case, you submitted this way, way too early. Get into a good critique group, one that will help you to achieve your goal. The take a blue or better yet, red pencil to this whole section. You’ll be better off in the long run.

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  14. requireshate
    Apr 21, 2012 @ 10:24:59

    I have to wonder if English isn’t this author’s first language because of the grammar structure.

    These mistakes are the kind made by a functionally illiterate Anglophone, product of a rotten education system (so probably American). Non-native speakers make completely different kinds of mistakes, and for that matter we’re generally a lot more conscientious about our language use to the point that we’re often more articulate than you. So… no.

    ReplyReply

  15. Abbie Rhoades
    Apr 21, 2012 @ 10:32:22

    It takes a ton of courage to put your work out there for the world to see. And it hurts like hell when you find out it isn’t as good as you thought it was. Most writers have had that experience at some point.

    But don’t lose hope. You can get better! You’ve just got to put the time and effort into it.

    Spend some time learning how to write. Take some basic grammar classes. Take some craft classes on showing vs telling, characterization, world building, plot. Take a class on critiquing to learn how to look at other people’s work objectively. And find some critique partners (not family or friends) who will be honest about your areas of weakness and your strengths. There are lots of places where you can take on-line classes for a minimal fee.

    Spend time learning about the publishing industry and its standards. Go to writers workshops and conferences. Join your local writers group. Join the national organizations. Meet other writers. Study the bestsellers as if they were college text books.

    Just because this submission didn’t give you much positive feedback doesn’t mean you can’t get better. Spend some time learning your craft, then show everyone that you can do it!

    Don’t ever give up!

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  16. galwiththehoe
    Apr 21, 2012 @ 10:51:12

    I got lost and confused during the flashback due to the tenses.

    ReplyReply

  17. theo
    Apr 21, 2012 @ 10:57:08

    @requireshate:

    Sorry, but it reads to me the way it would read if it had been run through Google Translate. But I’m not going to argue with you. That’s simply what I see and am willing to give the author the benefit of the doubt if that’s the case.

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  18. requireshate
    Apr 21, 2012 @ 13:30:42

    @theo: I do know how non-Anglophones talk and write seeing that I’m one myself and am familiar with a great many more. There are particular ways to err, and this isn’t it. Google translate wouldn’t have produced something quite like this either–it’s too coherent by far. Translate doesn’t give you confused homophones, either.

    Immediately assuming something this appalling must be attributed to not being Anglophonic (and do look up that word, please) is more than a little condescending, more than a little colonialist (look this up, too).

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  19. Jha
    Apr 21, 2012 @ 14:05:45

    @theo

    I worked for years as a writing assistant with both ESL speakers and Anglophone students, and ESL students do not make these kinds of mistakes re: punctuation and clauses. Grammar drills are very much part of ESL education, which from what I’ve noticed just isn’t found in many N.Am school systems anymore. My Anglophone students, however, constantly and consistently made these kinds of mistakes.

    ReplyReply

  20. Lilly
    Apr 21, 2012 @ 14:41:07

    Hello Author,

    Aside from grammar problems and others mentioned above, you need to give us the identity of who the main character is and whose point of view we’re following.

    I understood there were two separate incidents here — the present one where the women/girls are creeping to a cave. They see a Hobgoblin. Then the character thinks back to another time –”she was jolted into the past”– where she saw children in cages/ the Hobgoblins had gone/ techs were everywhere.

    As so many readers got the two incidents confused, it seems more clarity is in order.

    Good luck with this!

    Obviously this needs to be clearer, along with mny other items.

    ReplyReply

  21. Twila Price
    Apr 21, 2012 @ 15:35:18

    For a first appalled second, I was sure this was a joke on the readers of First Page. It was too horrible to be someone’s submission, wasn’t it? But, supposing that it is an honest submission, I must tell the author that you really must learn grammar and spelling and basic sentence structure. It’s not enough to want to be a writer, you must also learn the nuts and bolts of basic English before you try to inflict yourself on any readers. That’s harsh, I know, but I have to say that anyone who could honestly perpetrate this and expect people to read it needs the harsh.

    “Sarah I really don’t want to be here?” Said Karly.

    Karly tapped Sarah’s shoulder when she ignored her.

    “Why are you ignoring me?” Said Karly.

    This should have been….

    “Sarah, I really don’t want to be here,” Karly said. After a moment, she tapped Sarah’s shoulder. “Why are you ignoring me?”

    The first sentence is a declaration, not a question. No question mark. Sarah’s name should have been set off by a comma, since Karly is addressing her. And so on. It’s painful to read.

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  22. Cara Ellison
    Apr 21, 2012 @ 15:47:48

    Unreadable tripe.

    ReplyReply

  23. LisaCharlotte
    Apr 21, 2012 @ 17:12:21

    I agree that this submission is rough, but what’s with the “it must have been written by a stupid, uneducated American”?????

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  24. Stephani Hecht
    Apr 21, 2012 @ 18:45:42

    To the author,
    I know how hard it must have been to put this out there. I admire your bravery. Like some of the others suggested, you may want to take grammar and/or creative writing courses. Most community colleges offer them and they do help a lot. It’s not easy to get published, but I’m sure with some hard work and determination you will be able to do it.

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  25. theo
    Apr 21, 2012 @ 21:18:05

    @LisaCharlotte:

    Neither requireshate (who’s name says it all really) or jha are American. Neither of which offered anything constructive to the author.

    My comment on the translator was not to be a slam in any way. Rather to, as I said, give the author the benefit of the doubt. Belonging to a forum where a small handful of members know little English at all, this first page is more typical of the kind of post I see when those members run their comments through a translator first.

    Author, if that comment offended you, I apologize. It was not my intent. As to requireshate and jha, since you already hate the American education system, I’ll file your comments where they belong.

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  26. Jane
    Apr 21, 2012 @ 21:29:16

    @theo: I know you don’t mean to be offensive, but I am really taken aback by your comments toward the two “non American” commenters. How do you a) know that they aren’t American and b) that they hate the educational system?

    What I heard them saying is don’t just assume bad grammar is a function of those people whose first language is not American.

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  27. theo
    Apr 21, 2012 @ 22:05:35

    @Jane:

    I read their blogs and their comments on the American educational system.

    And again, I can’t apologize enough for my first comment, but I’m done groveling.

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  28. Jane
    Apr 21, 2012 @ 22:38:31

    @theo: It did not appear that you actually apologized. You said I’m sorry if I offended you. You’ve not admitted any wrongdoing only that the other party is so thin skinned that they can’t appreciate your comment.

    I’m still taken aback. No groveling is necessary. If you feel an apology is warranted then make a true apology. Otherwise, just stand on your position and be prepared for the contrary opinions.

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  29. theo
    Apr 21, 2012 @ 22:43:14

    I apologized to the author. She/he is the only one I feel I need to apologize to.

    ReplyReply

  30. requireshate
    Apr 22, 2012 @ 01:46:11

    @theo:

    (who’s name says it all really)

    See? This is the kind of mistakes an Anglophone makes: homophones. Ain’t what us non-Anglophones do, cupcakes.

    As to requireshate and jha, since you already hate the American education system, I’ll file your comments where they belong.

    What, under “Perfectly Reasonable People”? It’s not like anything we said was remotely controversial.

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  31. theo
    Apr 22, 2012 @ 07:56:52

    @requireshate:

    Cupcakes? Now that’s articulate. Your condescension is showing.

    Look, I get it, you hate our educational system. You think you’re being witty by telling me to look up words you’re assuming I don’t understand, another condescending moment. You take this author’s work to your own “hate of all things American education” blog and use it as an example of how bad our system is, and yet, you offer nothing, not one thing to this author to help her or him in any way. If you think you’re so much better than we are at our own language, offer assistance. Evidently though, it’s just easier for you to make fun of something than to help.

    I own this comment completely and if someone wishes to file it in their circular file, it’s their right to do so.

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  32. Jane
    Apr 22, 2012 @ 09:37:45

    Let’s get back on topic, @theo and @requireshate. If you want to continue to insult each other, please do so elsewhere.

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  33. SharonD
    Apr 22, 2012 @ 10:36:52

    Wow. Just wow. Both for the quality of the submission and for what this discussion has devolved into.

    [comment edited by Jane]

    Author, the responses you’ve received here should give you a clear signal that your grammar, spelling and formatting are a major problem. We were so distracted and confused by the poor execution that we couldn’t focus on your actual story. If you hope for a career as a professional writer, this is an obstacle you will need to overcome. Read books like “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” by Lynne Truss and/or google “grammar” and explore some of the many helpful websites that are available. Join local writers’ groups and make friends with other writers who can beta read your work and help you identify grammar problems. For a writer, a lack of natural facility with grammar is a serious handicap, but if you’re determined it’s one you can overcome.

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  34. Jane
    Apr 22, 2012 @ 10:58:58

    @Sharon D – I’m editing your comment because I would like for the comment thread to remain on point at this juncture. I’d like to remind people that DA is a global reading community. Making assumptions about the literacy level of non native English speakers can be insulting to many people.

    ReplyReply

  35. SharonD
    Apr 22, 2012 @ 11:49:04

    @Jane, I absolutely respect your choice to bring this discussion back to the author’s work. I am perplexed and disturbed, however, that you would choose to censure Theo’s incorrect assumptions and not say a word about requireshates insulting condescension. IMO, you’re censoring and censuring the wrong things.

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  36. Jane Lovering
    Apr 22, 2012 @ 13:01:57

    Author, I know a lot of people have had a lot to say already about your submission, and I agree with all of them. Especially about how tough it is to put your work out there and then receive less-than-flattering feedback, so good on you for not wading in to the discussion with ‘but…but…’ justifications. I would add, on the subject of improving your writing, that you might like to read more, and more widely. Yes, read in the field in which you write, but not exclusively – read classics (not the boring, worthy ones, the ones which excite you!), read autobiographies and histories and..well, just everything. Devour words. Improved use of language and grammar, ability to structure and build character will become far easier when you’ve read how other people do it. Read constantly. Rewrite bits of the books you love to give them the outcomes you’d like them to have. Don’t rely on the fanfic community to critique your work, (if you have done so already), put it out to more places like this.
    And keep writing. Honestly, keep at it. You are clearly filled with wonderful ideas, now you just have to pick up the techniques and put them into practice… And then you can come back as a multi-bestseller and ner-ner-ner-ner-ner all of us.

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  37. Moriah Jovan
    Apr 22, 2012 @ 13:32:28

    I’m going to go out on a very short, low limb. This reads like it was written by a young (~tween) native English speaker* who has a clear picture in her head and knows what she wants to say, but hasn’t read widely enough, has no training, and no one she trusts to teach her. As @Jane Lovering said, Author, you need to 1) read more and 2) find someone to help you and 3) keep writing. Please. Don’t let this discourage you.

    [comment edited by Jane]

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  38. Karenna Colcroft
    Apr 22, 2012 @ 13:34:41

    I’m a former special education teacher (in the US), and this piece reminded me of writing I saw from my middle school and high school students when I was working. The punctuation and capitalization error in the first sentence was the sort of thing I saw frequently. The errors in the rest of the piece, particularly lack of commas where they’re needed, are also things I often saw.

    The voice of this piece strikes me as young teen, though given the content I suspect the characters are older.

    I have to wonder if perhaps this author has some kind of learning disability. The plot of the piece seems imaginative (though I confess to skimming, particularly the very long paragraph), but there’s a lot of work needed in the execution of it. Author, you have a good idea here; please find someone to help you go through it and fix the errors and phrasing.

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  39. Linda Hilton
    Apr 22, 2012 @ 14:38:43

    When this piece showed up prematurely on DA last Thursday, I made it to the end of the first sentence and quit. I’ve only come back to it because of the number and tenor of the comments.

    Punctuation, capitalization, and usage errors probably cannot be blamed on translation software. I’m much more inclined to believe this is the work of someone who, for whatever reason, is unskilled with written English. These skills can be learned. Even the best writers in the world were not born knowing grammar and punctation; somewhere along the line, we all learned them. Since language is pretty much the only tool available to the writer, it behooves anyone who aspires to a writing career to master that tool.

    This means that it is not enough, Author, for you to find someone to fix the errors you’ve already made. Unless, as one commenter has observed, there is a learning disability involved that will require another writer’s assistance, you need to learn how not to make these errors, because that is how you develop the ability to tell your story in the most effective way. The right words will evoke the right image for your reader. The right punctuation will make voices clear in your reader’s mind. The right writing will make your writing invisible, so the reader forgets she/he is reading and instead becomes one with the story, seeing it, hearing it, smelling it, experiencing it.

    I don’t think any of the commenters here has praised the writing; a unanimous verdict pretty much says this is a serious problem that should not be ignored. And while it does take courage to put one’s work out in front of potential critics, it takes even more courage for the writer to acknowledge the validity of the negative comments and act on them, rather than be defensive and dismissive.

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  40. Shiloh Walker
    Apr 22, 2012 @ 15:41:33

    I’ve got a 13 year old budding writer in my house… and I’ll be honest, this overall execution (namely in the formatting, choppy paragraphs, etc etc) isn’t that much different from what I’ve read from her when I’m skimming her projects.  Maybe not a YOUNG writer, but a new one.  And when you’re new, it’s not always easy to know where to look for guidance.

    Writing is a craft that takes a long time to polish…I’ve been writing since middle school and I’m 35, still learning, just to put that out there. And absolutely it takes courage.

    Learning to write a story isn’t the same as the kind of English/Language Arts, etc they teach in school, either. Yes, the spelling and grammar need work, but that’s something you can learn with more reading, and with more writing, so don’t give up. :)

    Some thoughts of mine… the overall idea? It’s not bad. Execution and what the writer is trying to tell the reader, that needs work, but that’s perfectly fine. And I know sometimes hearing that… “THIS NEEDS WORK…” isn’t much help without some guidance.

    Taking this paragraph

    As they walked up to the hidden cave she got a whiff of decomposing flesh. A smell that she had come to identify all to well. Knowing there MO she did not want to find out what was in there decaying, but it was their job to keep the city clean of miscreants so that’s exactly what they were going to do. Stepping over a stone while ducking her head into the cave entrance she was jolted into the past. She remembered going deep into a cave where she smelt rotting flesh and the stench had gotten stronger with every step. As she turned that corner the sight she had seen made her want to rip out her heart. There were multiple children in cages ranging from ages four years old to thirteen. The skin on their little bodies had been peeled and the raw meat was exposed showing stretched muscle. The bodies were covered in maggots. She had to look away briefly to keep her composure, after she took in a shaky breath she stalked over to the cages. The bodies were covered in tiny bite marks. She was shaking with so much anger that black spots started to filter into her vision. She remembered unsheathing her steel Katana blade from her back and readying the blade for revenge. Calm washed over her; the comforted feeling she got right before she dealt deaths. She was going to enjoy tearing these Goblins apart, all while doing it slowly. She moved through the caves caverns, rolling her wrist to adjust the long blade to the caves walls. Waiting for her opportune moment to attack; to her disappointment the nasty things had already moved on, leaving only the stench of death and bodies for them to clean up. She searched the caves one more time making sure they were really gone.

    For example…

    As they walked up to the hidden cave she got a whiff of decomposing flesh. A smell that she had come to identify all to well.

    Knowing there (should be their) MO, she did not want to find out what was in there decaying. However, it was their job to keep the city clean of miscreants so that’s exactly what they were going to do.

    Stepping over a stone, she ducked and moved into the cave entrance–it was like she’d been jolted into the past. (too many twists and turns and shifts make it hard to follow…simplify a bit)

    She remembered going deep into a cave where she smelled (smelt typically isn’t used… rotting flesh and the stench had gotten stronger with every step. this would be a cool place to SHOW us what she’s feeling. Is she scared? SHOW us….her hands are sweating, her heart is racing, she’s got a weird taste in the back of her mouth)

    As she turned that corner , the sight (I added in a comma there… you add them in to show a pause in thought or where you might pause if you were going to read the story outloud , she had seen made her want to rip out her heart.

    (notice I’m breaking up the paragraphs… it makes the story read smoother if you don’t keep them running too long. You want to have each paragraph basically convey one idea/thought, etc)

    There were multiple children in cages ranging from ages four years old to thirteen. The skin on their little bodies had been peeled and the raw meat was exposed showing stretched muscle. The bodies were covered in maggots. (broke here because it explained what she saw… the next can explain how it made her feel, etc…the next idea)

    She had to look away briefly to keep her composure. (I removed the comma…add in a period, instead) After she took in a shaky breath, she stalked over to the cages. The bodies were covered in tiny bite marks.

    (here’s another chance to SHOW us she’s angry…try something like…)
    Fury flooded her, leaving her shaking. Black spots crowded in on her vision and she had her sword in her hand, although she only barely remembered drawing it. She had only one thought on her mind. Revenge.

    Calm washed over her; the comforted feeling she got right before she dealt deaths. She was going to enjoy tearing these Goblins apart, all while doing it slowly. (you might want to readjust the wording there… TEAR usually gives the impression of something fast and sudden. You paint a picture with your words, so if you want slow, try something like CARVE)

    She moved through the caves caverns, rolling her wrist to adjust the long blade to the caves walls. Waiting for her opportune moment to attack. Sadly, the nasty things had already moved on, leaving nothing but death behind. (sometimes, less is more… the more stark you go, the harder the impact and this is a grim picture)

    She searched the caves one more time, making sure they were really gone.

     

    Taking out all my stuff, you’re left with…

    As they walked up to the hidden cave she got a whiff of decomposing flesh. A smell that she had come to identify all too well.

    Knowing their MO, she did not want to find out what was in there decaying. However, it was their job to keep the city clean of miscreants so that’s exactly what they were going to do.

    Stepping over a stone, she ducked and moved into the cave entrance–it was like she’d been jolted into the past.

    She remembered going deep into a cave where she smelled rotting flesh and the stench had gotten stronger with every step.

    As she turned that corner, the sight she had seen made her want to rip out her heart.

    There were multiple children in cages ranging from ages four years old to thirteen. The skin on their little bodies had been peeled and the raw meat was exposed showing stretched muscle. The bodies were covered in maggots.

    She had to look away briefly to keep her composure.  After she took in a shaky breath, she stalked over to the cages. The bodies were covered in tiny bite marks.

    Fury flooded her, leaving her shaking. Black spots crowded in on her vision and she had her sword in her hand, although she only barely remembered drawing it. She had only one thought on her mind. Revenge.

    Calm washed over her; the comforted feeling she got right before she dealt deaths. She was going to enjoy tearing these Goblins apart, all while doing it slowly. She moved through the caves caverns, rolling her wrist to adjust the long blade to the caves walls. Waiting for her opportune moment to attack. Sadly, the nasty things had already moved on, leaving nothing but death behind.

    She searched the caves one more time, making sure they were really gone.

    okay… okay… I’m a lousy teacher, but I hope that helps. I googled a couple of places for grammer, commas and punctuation. I’ll be honest, next to nothing I learned in school ever helped with writing. It’s something you pick up through writing more and reading. Maybe the links will help, but don’t give up…you do have an imagination and that’s the first thing, the very first thing any writer needs. :)

    http://karin-cox.suite101.com/grammar-for-beginners-a173294

    http://theeditorsblog.net/2011/01/13/finding-commas-in-all-the-wrong-places/

    http://www.fictionfactor.com/guests/grammar2.html (I’m including this one because it links to some useful sources online and various books I’ve seen… ELEMENTS OF STYLE, for one)

    http://www.how-to-write-a-novel.net/paragraph-writing.html (explains how to break up paragraphs, etc)

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  41. Shiloh Walker
    Apr 22, 2012 @ 15:47:06

    adding in… nothing I learned in school helped me all that much. I can’t speak for others.

    If by chance you’re a young and new writer, just keep writing… a lot of this is going to smooth itself out with time and practice. :) Reading and writing a lot are going to be your best friends when it comes to learning how to find your voice.

    If you’re new and trying to learn how to write, the best thing you can do is pick up some style guides and start reading lot, but not for fun. Studying how other writers put their sentences together, their paragraphs, etc. will help. Seeing how they do dialogue will help you learn how to do it. Style guides on grammar, punctuation, etc will also help.

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  42. anon
    Apr 22, 2012 @ 15:52:29

    As a young student and wanna-be novelist who’s taken years of creative writing workshops in school (both at the community college and the university level), I’ve seen all kinds of writing from all kinds of people. While this was definitely not a good piece to read, it was definitely not the worst I’ve seen, either.

    My first critique for the piece: I would not start with the dialogue. The dialogue was boring, and characterized the characters as young teens. If your intent was to portray the characters as young, you’ve done it—but still, the dialogue is boring. I don’t know what a better start would be, but if they are staking out a cave—add tension and a sense of mystery. Add more descriptions, add more character to the girls. As of right now, I really don’t know who they are and how to differentiate between Sarah and Karly.

    I would not include the flashback, either. The reader is already trying to grasp the present situation. Why include a flashback and muddle things up? Also, the way you transitioned into the flashback was confusing, and I was not entirely sure when you transitioned out of it and into the current time.

    The gory details about the children in the cave was good, but I felt it came out of nowhere. There’s nothing in the tone of the story to suggest this might also include elements of horror, so the readers are slapped with it. This is shocking, but not good. It will turn off some readers. You need to get a good feel for the story—establish that it’s a dark type of story from the very beginning, or lessen up on the horror.

    You clearly have a creative mind and enthusiasm for your piece, otherwise you would not be posting. My advice is to read more. Read books you like and read outside your favorite genre, too. Reading taught me how to write, more than any teacher or fellow student or critiques.

    But also, stalk your favorite authors online! :-) I’m serious. Many authors, on their website or blogs, will include tips on writing. If you already love their books, you will be overjoyed to read their writing about writing. If you don’t like reading dry grammar books (I certainly don’t), this is good advice to take.

    Regarding possibilities of ESL or learning disabilities: I myself am ESL, and I write better than many people my age and older. There was a once boy with a learning disability in one of my writing classes—he also had trouble with his speech—and some people made fun of him. But he surprised us all by writing one of the best stories, he was very funny and very imaginative.

    There’s nothing to stop a writer from writing—except the author giving up on herself/himself. So don’t let the comments get you down, because you definitely can keep on going.

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  43. Andrea Harris
    Apr 22, 2012 @ 18:26:54

    Dear Author: your first line of dialogue contains a mistake I’m seeing more and more these days. (And note: it’s one that’s very common among Americans. I don’t know how they are teaching English these days — my grammar classes were very long ago — but they don’t seem to be emphasizing simply rules of punctuation any more.) Fortunately, it’s an easy one to fix. Anyway, it’s this: you have the following sentence:

    “Sarah I really don’t want to be here?” Said Karly.

    That question mark should not be there, because Karly is not asking a question. She is, instead, making a statement. That statement declares that she does not want to be where she is.

    Now, since it’s not easy on an American keyboard to insert a question mark instead of a period, I assume you meant that question mark to be there. And I think (this is my own opinion from the tone of the rest of the passage) that the reason you thought there should be a question mark is because you wanted to indicate that Karly was feeling uncertainty and doubt, and you thought all that was needed was a question mark. However, that is not the correct usage of a question mark. Question marks are for questions only.

    Here is how you could have written the line instead:

    “Do I really have to be here?” Karly said.

    “I don’t really have to be here, do I?”

    Or simply:

    “I don’t really want to be here,” Karly said. [Note also that there is a comma, not a period, at the end of the dialogue sentence. That is because dialogue that is followed by something like "Karly said" gets to be an honorary part of a sentence and not a sentence on its own. If you want a period, write it like this: "Karly said, 'I don't really want to be here.'"]

    Anyway, the only real way to properly absorb all the nitpicky rules of English grammar is to read a lot of different (and challenging! read above your grade level) stories and books, write more, read more, write more, and find someone like a teacher you like to go over your work with you in person. And read more and write more.

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  44. Cara Ellison
    Apr 22, 2012 @ 19:18:13

    I’m really impressed that so many others have encouraged this writer. I think that speaks volumes about their innate kindness.

    I don’t believe people like this should be encouraged because they don’t respect their audience. This reminds me of one of those people I meet at dinner parties who ask what I do. When I say I’m a writer they say, “Oh, I want to write a novel. Maybe when I get some time.”

    AS IF ANYONE CAN DO IT! As if there are millions of bestsellers out there just waiting to be written by any ninny who can “find the time”.

    That attitude is so disrespectful. I’m sorry but some people should not be encouraged.

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  45. Shiloh Walker
    Apr 22, 2012 @ 19:33:47

    @Cara Ellison: Eh, I’m going to disagree… it’s entirely likely we’re dealing with somebody young. I started young. Does that mean if I’d submitted a story like this at 12 years old when my writing worse than this that I was disrespectful?

    No… it means I wanted to learn. Fortunately for me, I grew up in the age before the internet so I didn’t have this easy access. Because I was impulsive enough that I would have definitely tried, just because I wanted it so much.

    Without knowing anything about the writer’s background, it’s almost impossible, IMO, to say there’s anything but an inexperienced writer here. And we all have to start somewhere.

    As I mentioned in my critique, I’ve got a 13 yr old budding writer in my house, one who has shown me many, many things not that far from this as far as execution goes. I’ll be around to help her with this sort of thing, but if somebody doesn’t have that sort of venue? And plenty young, new writers don’t, it’s not always easy to find direction.

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  46. Cara Ellison
    Apr 22, 2012 @ 19:45:38

    @Shiloh Walker:

    I started young too. I wrote my first full length novel at 14 and yes, I thought it was the greatest thing since Rome (and I have no problem saying I was so, so, so wrong.) So if this writer is young, then I take back everything I said about encouraging her. I would wonder what is being taught in our schools if this is the quality grammar being produced, but a young person should be encouraged to find things she loves, things she’s good at, and things she wants to pursue.

    That said, if she’s over 18, there is no excuse for this.

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  47. Jill Shultz
    Apr 22, 2012 @ 19:48:37

    Building on Shiloh Walker’s suggestions about the importance of word choice, I’m going to focus on one of the strongest moments in the piece to explain the importance of the right detail.

    “She had to look away briefly to keep her composure, after she took in a shaky breath she stalked over to the cages. The bodies were covered in tiny bite marks. She was shaking with so much anger that black spots started to filter into her vision.”

    You’ve stayed in the moment and allowed the reader to experience events through Sarah’s physical and emotional reactions to them. That’s good! These visceral details allow me to feel that I’m right there with Sarah. You can let the reader get even closer.

    “She had to look away briefly to keep her composure,” (Stay in her body, and let us feel more of what she’s experiencing.)

    For example…

    Sarah gasped and looked away. She stared off into the distance, not really seeing anything. Her pulse drummed against the inside of her wrists. She let out one shaky breath. Another. Better. She looked back. This time, her cheeks flooded with heat and she stalked toward the cages.

    “The bodies were covered in tiny bite marks.”

    Be more specific. What shape is the bite mark? Tiny like those made by a mouse or kitten? Are they clean puncture wounds or is the muscle torn and ragged? See for yourself: take a piece of soft bread. Chomp and let go. Put it between your teeth and pull. Gnaw, tear… these actions (and different kinds of teeth) leave different marks.

    “She was shaking with so much anger that black spots started to filter into her vision.”

    Anger can make you shake, but it’s not going to make you see spots before your eyes. That generally happens when you stare into a very bright light, or suddenly become very light-headed, or hit your head.

    Remember a time when you were angry. Were your muscles relaxed or clenched? What happened to your breath? Did your eyes narrow or twitch? How did it affect your concentration? Your ability to communicate?

    When you’re editing, pay attention to the precision of your details. If they’re specific and accurate, it will be easier for readers to lose themselves in your story.

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  48. Linda Hilton
    Apr 22, 2012 @ 21:58:23

    This whole topic has just given me a really uncomfortable feeling.

    @Cara Ellison: I, too, wrote my first adult novel at age 14 (completed after my 15th birthday, though), and thought it was wonderful. It wasn’t, and isn’t, and yes, I still have it. But while the writing isn’t all that great, at least the punctuation and grammar and spelling are correct. Even though I disliked her intensely, Miss Vivian Miles taught her sixth grade classes the elements of English grammar and I’ve never forgotten them. Whether in school or through extensive reading or however we do it, as writers we learn those skills.

    The person who wrote this submission — regardless of age, native language, or anything else — has not yet learned those skills. If we’re supposed to be critiquing A Piece Of Writing, then that’s one thing. If we’re supposed to be encouraging A Young Writer who can’t punctuate dialogue, then that’s another thing. But they are not one and the same.

    I’ve read contest entries and critique group submissions written by “mature” adults — by which I mean over the age of 50 — that were no better than this, and some were worse. Indeed, there are digitally self-published novels written by adults that are worse. The text itself is no automatic indicator of the age of the writer, but only of her or his skill level. And all we got was the text.

    If in fact the writer of Mortal Sins is under age 16, then I feel DA has done her/him a disservice. I always operate on the assumption that this is a discussion group for adults and that everyone who participates does so as an adult, whether as a reader or a writer. As you say, Cara, adults have no excuse for not knowing the rules of writing. They’ve chosen to write and should know how to use the tools of the trade.

    But a young person who so obviously hasn’t learned yet, and who is exposed to the kind of criticism that would normally be reserved for adults, is probably not going to be “encouraged” to keep writing at all. Having her or his work thrown out there without the qualification of the author’s age was, imho, unfair and cruel.

    The accidental dissemination of the sample on Thursday generated the first few comments and those were pretty much WTF? Was the author alerted and given a chance to retract or go ahead? How many of us who offered blunt evaluations would have tempered them had we known the author was A Kid? And yet even now we don’t know for sure one way or the other.

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  49. Jane
    Apr 22, 2012 @ 22:12:12

  50. Jane
    Apr 22, 2012 @ 22:14:22

  51. Cara Ellison
    Apr 22, 2012 @ 22:33:49

    @Linda Hilton:

    I agree with almost everything you say.

    My understanding is that the DA “First Page” series is for writers who are pursuing publishing. If a 13 year old is writing romance, and submitting to DA, then that shows a great deal of initiative – good for her. But she doesn’t get points for being an percocious moppet. She gets points for writing well. That’s the only standard, as far as I’m concerned. As you say, if she’s submitting to learn how to write, then I’ve been overly harsh. If she’s submitting because she thinks she’s ready to publish, she needs someone to disabuse her of that notion.

    I did make the assumption that she is an adult. We talk about all kinds of acrobatic fucking (as well as complex emotional issues) on DA and Smart Bitches. It makes me uncomfy to think of young teens reading it or writing it. I guess the fact that she knew enough to submit her piece of writing here was all the evidence I needed to treat her like an adult.

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  52. Linda Hilton
    Apr 22, 2012 @ 22:40:46

    @Cara Ellison: My sentiments exactly.

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  53. SAO
    Apr 23, 2012 @ 01:47:24

    This is late, but, Author, everyone comes to writing with a different set of gifts and weaknesses. If can’t tell a story, it might not show up on the first page. If you have writing errors, they will. So, when people tell you you have a lot to learn, just remember, most of us do, and better to find out what needs work on page one, than to discover that you don’t have a plot on page 247.

    Some people absorb writing conventions through reading. Others don’t. You can learn them. Get a simple book on how to write and look in books you like for examples. Be careful about putting everything into practice. Next, get proof-readers who are good at what you are weak at, learn from them, don’t just follow their suggestions without thinking about what was wrong.

    One of the reasons you got such a negative reaction is that you did nothing to show us character or setting until you got to the caves, which was 2/3s of the way down my screen. Until that point, they could have been sipping espresso at a sidewalk cafe in Paris, for all we knew. So, we’re wandering around blindly, wondering what’s going on, then we get slammed with the cave and the rotting corpses of children.

    Most of this is because you don’t understand motivation reaction units. You can Google this, as others can explain it better than I can, but the bottom line is you have to get things in the right order. Event, visceral reaction, deliberate reaction. You don’t want to read, “She grabbed a cloth and started mopping the floor, having yelled, ‘ouch’ while jumping back after the hot water splashed her and the floor”. It’s backwards.

    “Sarah I really don’t want to be here?” Said Karly. This is a reaction, but you haven’t shown us the event/circumstances Karly is reacting to. So, all we feel is confusion, not Karly’s dread.
    Put the event first:
    A noise from the caves alerted Karly and Sarah. They crouched low to the ground. Dressed in black catsuits, they were like shadows behind a pair of bushes. A hobgoblin came out and looked slowly around before turning back inside the cave. Karly got a whiff of decomposing flesh.

    Now, Karly can have a reaction and we will know what she’s reacting to.

    She was jolted into the past. The bodies in the cages, crawling with maggots.

    You don’t want to go into info dump mode or extensive flashback. We need to know what’s going on in this scene, so keep it brief and move on to the now:
    She was shaking with so much anger that black spots started to filter into her vision.
    Now, when Karly speaks, we have an idea of what she’s saying, “Sarah, I really don’t want to be here,” Said Karly.

    Karly tapped Sarah’s shoulder when she ignored her. Again, reaction is coming in place of the event. Sarah ignoring Karly isn’t shown. So, we add it in:

    Sarah didn’t move a tense muscle, all her focus on the cave. Now, Karly can tap Sarah’s shoulder and say, “Why are you ignoring me?”

    However, you’d start to develop the relationship between the women by showing Sarah’s reaction to Karly. At the end of the piece, I don’t know who they are, boss and subordinate? Lovers? Relative strangers on their first assignment together. By focusing on the cave and ignoring Karly, Sarah is either unaware of Karly’s rampage, unconcerned, or too scared/hyped up on adrenaline to care. So, you can add this in.

    Sarah, the consummate professional, didn’t move a muscle. Ice must run in her veins. Didn’t she have nightmares?

    Note, I’m making it up about Sarah, since you didn’t give me any material to go with. I could have, just as easily assumed the following: Sarah didn’t move a muscle, she must be scared stiff. I have Sarah’s action and Karly’s interpretation/reaction. Now, Karly can tap her shoulder.
    Let’s put it all together:
    A noise from the caves alerted Karly and Sarah. They crouched low to the ground. Dressed in black catsuits, they were like shadows behind a pair of bushes. A hobgoblin came out and looked slowly around before turning back inside the cave.
    Karly got a whiff of decomposing flesh. She was jolted into the past: the bodies in the cages, crawling with maggots. She was shaking with so much anger that black spots started to filter into her vision. “Sarah, I really don’t want to be here.”
    Sarah, the consummate professional, didn’t move a muscle. Ice must run in her veins. Didn’t she have nightmares?

    You note, with mostly your words and the same space that your confusing dialogue took, the scene is set and characterization is beginning.

    The next issue is that you have to focus on what your chars are feeling. After her bad experience with the dead, maggoty children, is Karly really going to be whining about the council meeting? Would Sarah chuckle? You have a very tense scene and you’re taking away from the realism by not focusing on it.

    When I started writing, I added all sorts of extraneous details and irrelevant emotions and had to edit them out, by reviewing a scene and thinking about the purpose. I used to joke that if I was writing Casablanca, I’d send Bogart home to pack his socks, because if you are going to walk off into the sunset, you need clean socks, right? With experience, I’ve developed a much better filter for what needs to be in a scene and what doesn’t.

    So, you may need to do several levels of review to get this book right. Grammar and punctuation, scene structure and characterization, but it’s a learning process and you will probably pretty rapidly develop the skills.

    Many, if not most, people learn to write books by writing their first book. You wouldn’t expect you could sew a great dress without either plenty of prior experience or plenty of seam-ripping and resewing. But you could end up with a decent dress at the end of the work and your next one will be much better with much less re-work.

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