Page Critique Friday 9/3/10

Offer up your page (or query) for Nathan's critique on the blog.

Re: Page Critique Friday 9/3/10

Postby WilsoninTexas » 03 Sep 2010, 18:36

I like the use of short sentences in the dialogue, it's very realistic.

Unfortunately, I don't like your beginning paragraph as I'm confused as to who's who by the time you say 'He had to fix...'
I would suggest starting with something like, 'Jim knew his image needed repair. He didn't need his brother, Edie, to remind him what was at stake.'

This is only a suggestion.

And I like tension between family members - it's something everyone can relate to.

Keep up the good work!
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/3/10

Postby Nathan Bransford » 03 Sep 2010, 18:58

Thanks so much to Rebecca for sharing this page. I like that the page doesn't try to do too much and eases us into the scene, and as a sports fan I'm definitely intrigued. That said, I worry a bit that this opening succumbs to very common foe: over-reliance on dialogue.

Dialogue is one of the trickiest elements of writing, and it's very easy to fall into a pattern where we set up two characters speaking to each other and they just explain everything the reader needs to know. And what's not to love about that, dialogue is fun to write! But the problem with relying too heavily on dialogue is twofold:

1) If you rely too much on dialogue you may not be taking enough time to establish key description, allowing characters to reflect, and using action to advance the plot.
2) It's really difficult to make dialogue sound realistic when the dialogue is weighed down with exposition.

The dialogue in this page is strong enough that it almost works, but the scene isn't really set before the page launches into the dialogue, and there are inevitably phrases that feel overly expository. For example, if two people were talking to each other, would they say "Back then you seemed like the perfect fit for a celebrity golf tournament." or would they say simply "You seemed like a perfect fit at the time," and the rest would be filled in with context? Since we don't know they're talking about a celebrity golf tournament the dialogue has to carry that extra information even though in that context they would both know what they're talking about without having to say "a celebrity golf tournament." It ends up feeling a bit overstuffed and unnatural.

When the dialogue is carrying the exposition, rather than having things explained through background and descriptive details, the reader has to piece together what is happening from snippets of clues from the conversation (which is clipped by banter) as well as keep track of the backs and forths of who is saying what. It's a lot for the reader to keep in their head, especially when the action that is happening in the scene is mainly just serving to break up the dialogue.

Every novel is different, and there are some that are heavier on dialogue than others. Elmore Leonard is the absolute master of the dialogue-heavy novel. But in general, my feeling about dialogue is that people tend to talk around things and feel each other out rather than coming right out and saying exactly what they mean. So when the dialogue is carrying the novel, it's so hard to both make it sound natural as well as tell the story, and the non-dialogue descriptions and actions become so crucial.

This page comes close to pulling it off, but I just worry the dialogue is asked to do too much. With a little more grounding, a little more reflection from whomever perspective this is told from, and a little more meaningful action and description to give a sense of these characters beyond their words, I think the reader will be connecting that much more.

Lastly: poor, maligned, necessary dialogue tags. I fear they need defending in an era where there are misguided blog posts about how you should never use them. Use them! Use them! Please use them! Sure, use them judiciously, but if you don't use them at all it's really easy for the reader to lose track of who is saying what.


Title: Hunted
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Word Count: 248

A loser? Jim was no loser, even though his brother was treating him like one. As soon as the media picked up the story, the rest of the sports world would assume Eddie had inside information, and Jim would end up on the has-been pile. He had to fix things. I came away from this sentence a little confused about whose perspective this is from. Or is it completely omniscient? Could it be grounded with one character or the other? It seems like it could be from either Jim's or Eddie's at this point.

Turning his back on the afternoon crowd milling about their parents' beach-side condo, he who is he? lowered his voice Using "Turning" makes this sentence a little Yoda-esque. Seems like it would read better as "Jim turned his back on the afternoon crowd etc..... and lowered his voice. "I don't get it, Eddie. I confirmed with the steering committee months ago."

"Back then you seemed like the perfect fit for a celebrity golf tournament too much exposition." His older brother I'm confused at this point who is whose older brother. Dialogue tags could help a lot here popped a stuffed mushroom into his mouth empty gesture.

"And now I don't?"

"What can I say."

"I'll find another team."

"How many players get picked up midseason?" Eddie bit into a cracker slathered with cheese.

"Iverson did and Terry."

"But most aren't."

Jim set his plate of uneaten hors d'oeuvres on a nearby table. "If I'm scheduled to play in your tournament, people will know my knee is okay and—"

"But it's not."

"It will be."

Eddie swiped a napkin over his mouth empty gesture. We're not getting enough of a hint of how the characters really think about the situation beyond the dialogue. Is Eddie hopeful for Jim, suspicious, dubious, does he think he's bonkers... reader not able to deduce because there aren't sufficient clues or non-dialogue thoughts. "I hope so, little brother, I really do. But the committee can't wait. They want a star they can promote now. You know, somebody who's actually playing."

Jim swallowed a trash-talk comeback about Eddie's failure to make the pros clear from context that it would be trash-talk. "You could use your influence to convince them—"

His brother held up a hand. "Only high profile celebs bring in the kind of donations we need." who's "we?"

Jim crumpled his empty paper cup.
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/3/10

Postby charlotte49ers » 03 Sep 2010, 19:15

Nathan Bransford wrote:

Title: Hunted
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Word Count: 248

A loser? <--I'd cut this. The next sentence is really strong as a stand alone. Jim was no loser, even though his brother was treating him like one. As soon as the media picked up the story, the rest of the sports world would assume Eddie had inside information <--who is Eddie?, and Jim would end up on the has-been pile. He had to fix things.

Turning his back on the afternoon crowd milling about their parents' beach-side condo, he lowered his voice. "I don't get it, Eddie. I confirmed with the steering committee months ago." <--I don't understand this reference, but maybe you explain it?

"Back then you seemed like the perfect fit for a celebrity golf tournament." His older brother popped a stuffed mushroom into his mouth.

"And now I don't?"

"What can I say."

"I'll find another team."

"How many players get picked up midseason?" Eddie bit into a cracker slathered with cheese.

"Iverson did and Terry."

"But most aren't." <--I'd say don't as opposed to aren't

Jim set his plate of uneaten hors d'oeuvres on a nearby table. "If I'm scheduled to play in your tournament, people will know my knee is okay and—"

"But it's not."

"It will be."

Eddie swiped a napkin over his mouth. "I hope so, little brother, I really do. But the committee can't wait. They want a star they can promote now. You know, somebody who's actually playing."

Jim swallowed a trash-talk comeback about Eddie's failure to make the pros <--my husband played pro (not NBA) ball and this temptation came up a lot. It's authentic! :-P. "You could use your influence to convince them—"

His brother held up a hand. "Only high profile celebs bring in the kind of donations we need."

Jim crumpled his empty paper cup.


Eddie sounds like a jerk! I want to slap him. Grrr…I really like this and with a few tweaks, I think it would be great! I love sports stories as I feel I've lived my life in a gym. Would love to see more! :)

ETA: Oh, and I would probably state explicitly that you are talking about a basketball player. Unless the reader knows the names you mentioned, they would probably assume it was golf (even though it's a celebrity tourny).
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/3/10

Postby D. G. Hudson » 04 Sep 2010, 10:29

Thanks, Rebecca, for submitting your page for critique! I like the interplay between the brothers, and just from the conversation and the comment about his brother never making the pro team, I can tell that they are very competitive, especially with each other. The older brother (Eddie, I think) likes the power he holds over his younger brother. He's seems calculating and cold. Mind games -- that's what the older brother is doing -- trying to devaluate his brother's proficiency in light of his own failure to achieve. Siblings!!

I use a lot of dialogue to set the scene in my own writing, and then during revising I try to fill in all those details in narrative. I agree with Nathan that dialogue tags help sort out who is talking. I lose interest if I have to read something several times to see who is saying what. But there are a lot of posts saying don't use tags. I think you have to judge each case individually. No wonder it's confusing for new writers.

Great excerpt -- I'm not into sports stories, but I like sibling rivalry and what that can produce!

Nathan, thanks for your views on dialogue in this page, and showing us what 'filler' looks like (empty gestures). I always learn something from these critiques. Much appreciated, you are. (from a Yoda acolyte)
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/3/10

Postby amyashley » 04 Sep 2010, 16:09

Rebecca, good work! Nathan gave great advice as always. I just wanted to pop in and say that I find it really useful to add facial expressions and tone of voice in when I am writing out my dialogues. Example:

Dean Denton glared a bit at Jacob and I over Toby’s head. She tried to soften it, but it was still a glare. She was growing more repellent by the minute. “Well, young man, paranormal is what we call it when you are different from the people around you. You do know that you are a vampire, don’t you?”
My son, the future Oscar winner, looked at me with imploring wide eyes. “Mama told me I’m not really supposed to talk to people about that.”
“Well, it’s okay to talk to me.” She was getting frustrated, and the steel in her voice was seeping in.



Make them see and hear it instead of just reading it.
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/3/10

Postby Steppe » 06 Sep 2010, 11:07

I liked all the stylistic talent displayed and the use of visual metaphors.
I would replace "sports world" with something descriptive. I would bet you a fiver your talking about football but there is the possibility it could be a hockey player who took a dirty full body check to the lower body or a baseball player who got crunched by a catcher trying to overrun home plate. Some suggestion within two sentences of "sports world" would narrow the focus. I might switch the age brackets and place Eddy as the jealous younger brother trying to trip up his older brother. The brother question is a tricky play but good fodder for foils and foes. A paid autograph signing session or commercial shoot for an automobile or alcoholic beverage could or could not replace the golf tournament (an extensive possibly unnecessary rewrite.)

Suggested complications: Drag in some supporting complications to reinforce the secret information premise.
The whole premise of possible secret information requires that the information can be exploited, so having Jim in a nexus to make or lose money for people is important. Also others trying to exploit unknown to Jim and Eddy such as "Key Man Insurance" workers who leak the status to bookies and possibly bring life and limb threatening possibilities to Eddy and Jim that they unknowingly blame on each other before working through the mystery and teaming up to save or destroy each other.

A good interesting premise. Nice style and potentials.
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/3/10

Postby Mira » 06 Sep 2010, 13:50

As usual, I love Nathan's critique. A very good point about dialogue and background, and one I hadn't thought of! Thank you so much, Nathan.

Rebecca, I really don't have much to add. I like that you are building tension between the brother who is successful and (possibly) not nice, and the brother who got de-railed and is trying to put his life back together. Very nice set up of conflict, and makes me root for the under-dog, if that was your intent. :)

Love fantasy, so I'll look for your book! :)

Good luck -
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