Thanks to Ben Marshall who is our first volunteer to send in his work for Friday Feedback. Well done, Ben. I know it’s not easy to send your work ‘out there’ to be critiqued, especially in a public forum.

Ben’s book is a dark YA adventure series set in the near-future. It tells the tale of a tight-knit circus surviving on wit, talent and crime – and how the young hero finds he cares enough about those he loves to fight for them.


I’d love to know if this beginning prompts intrigue rather than confusion in the reader.

The Pricking of Thumbs.

Tog looks after the elephants and the car thefts.  Mala and Milosh throw the knives and threaten people.  Spod’s the engineer and terrifies kids with his clown act.  The Fazio family do highwire, acrobatics and burglary.  Madam Tracey tells fortunes, writes up people’s wills to certain other people’s advantage and does the blackmails.  Professore does card tricks, makes poisons, and converts stray normals for the freak show.  I do the murders.

Ben, I love the names of your characters and this paragraph has an intriguing last line and you sound like you have plenty of possibilities for conflict in your story.

There are a lot of interesting elements here, but what you have at the moment is a ‘story about a story’. What I mean here is that you are telling your story rather than showing what happens, allowing the action to unfold for the reader.

I think you have realised instinctively yourself that this start is a bit confusing and that’s because you have introduced so many different characters in the first paragraph and not introduced the main character till the last line.

If this were my story, I would sprinkle these characters throughout the story more. Allow the reader to get to know them through their actions and through things that happen in the plot.

Here’s what I mean.  

Milosh’s knife whistled past the woman’s left ear and landed in the dirt at her feet. “Give me your hand bag,” demanded  Mala, holding out her long slender fingers.

See, here the reader gets to know your characters through their actions and dialogue.

I hate murdering people.  I asked the Patronne for one of the elephants but he said everyone had to do what they’re good at.  I said I’d murder him.  He just laughed and reminded me we all got our place in the Scheme of Things.

Ben, have you thought about starting your story here? “I hate murdering people” is a great opening line. Then instead of saying”I asked Patronne…”, show it.

For example,

“Why can’t I look after the elephants, try something new?”

Patronne sneered as he flicked the rope over the tent pole. “Everyone has to do what they’re good at.” He handed me a gun. “Now go do your thing.”

Ben, can you see how adding some actions and dialogue (getting your characters to talk to each other) draws the reader into the story more?

What I really like about this second paragraph is that your character’s voice is coming through strongly. I’m getting a sense of who your character is and that’s what I need to do early in your story. Right from the start, your character needs to engage the reader.

I don’t like Professore neither.  He converted a lost girl I liked into a Nightingale.  Nightingales is what we call the ones what do music after they been converted.  It’s all they can do.  Lucky they can’t think straight no more….

Once again, Ben, if you show these things happening, it will bring the story to life for your reader.

I hope you’ve found these comments helpful, Ben. If anyone else has constructive feedback for Ben, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section of this post.

Do you have a 150 word piece you’d like feedback on?

Email it to Dee*At*Deescribe*Dot*Com*Dot*au

Happy writing:)



  1. Wow, that’s fantastic advice and I AM intrigued by the storyline! I would really like to see it developed and find out what all the characters get up to and what a Nightingale is and how they come to be.

    I also love the artwork – that would make a fabulous cover. Ben – you have some great sounding ideas here, I hope you will follow through and complete your novel – it sounds as though it has the makings of a best-seller.

  2. Ben’s world is fascinating – I’d love to know more. And Dee follows her own advice to a tee. She shows Ben exactly what she means by Show and Don’t Tell. Great work, Ben and Dee.

  3. Thanks so much to Dee and the other commenters.

    I deliberately broke the ‘show don’t tell’ rule for the first chapter – subsequent chapters are written according to this rule in first-person past-tense format.

    Where Dee suggests I start the story is how I originally wrote it, so I think I’ll change it back.

    Bringing so many characters and names in on the first few pages is something I normally dislike, but because there are many in my circus, subsequent chapters fill out their characters incrementally in show-don’t-tell style. (I’m sixty-something pages into this MS btw)

    I’m really enjoying writing this world, and the characters feel like they’re taking charge of the keyboard as I write – which I hope is a good sign – though I do have an overall arc and endpoint plotted.

    Any who would like to read more can do so via:
    Further comments there much appreciated.

    Again, many thanks, and I’ll try and pay back your kindnesses by constructively commenting on others’ work.


  4. Thanks for sharing your story with us Ben,

    Sounds like you know where you’re going with it and it’s wonderful to hear how much you are enjoying writing it.

    Good luck with your story.


Comments are closed.