Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

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

Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Postby Nathan Bransford » 10 Sep 2010, 10:10

Okay! You all remember how this works. Below is the page up for critique. Feel free to chime in with comments, create your own redline (please note the "font colour" button above the posting box), and otherwise offer feedback. When offering your feedback, please please remember the sandwich rule (Positive, very polite constructive feedback, positive). In order to leave a comment you will need to register an account in the Forums, which should be self-explanatory.

I'll be back later with my own comment, and I'll update this original post with a link to my comment in case anyone wants to click to it directly. There will not be a separate thread, just this one.

And if you'd like to enter a page for a future Page Critique, please do so here.

As of this posting there were 508 pages up for critique. The random number generator at random.org says.....

313!!

Congrats to artrosch, whose page is below:

Title: Confessions Of An Honest Man
Word Count: 250


July, 1967. Detroit, Michigan
Three musicians were standing beside the club’s back door, under a canvas awning with scalloped trim. They wore black tuxedoes, replete with cummerbunds, bow ties and shoes polished to mirror perfection. The tallest of the three, a man in his early sixties, wore a red poppy in his lapel. The others had white carnations. A few people stopped to shake their hands and offer words of praise. Someone laughed a boozy laugh. When the people had drifted away, the older musician butted his cheroot in the sand of an ashtray. He stepped off the concrete pad and walked towards his car.

The other two followed casually, about fifteen seconds apart. They got into the vehicle and quietly closed the door
Soon they were engrossed in the ritual of the pipe: lighting, inhaling, holding their breath, exhaling. It was cozy in the Continental’s plush interior. Air came through the upholstery’s leather seams, as if the vehicle sighed. The men were settling down, recharging their nerves for the next set, the last set. It was one o’clock in the morning.
BANG! A sound like a bomb shocked the trio with sudden terror. Their bodies reacted before their brains registered the sound. They ducked, and their hands flew to cover their heads.

The car lurched as a man dove across the hood, holding a pistol in his right hand. His legs swam wildly as he fought to stop his momentum. Whatever tactic he had in mind, it wasn’t working.
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Postby ReenaJacobs » 10 Sep 2010, 10:46

artrosch

Thanks for sharing your excerpt. It takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there. :)

My thoughts on the piece:

I found the beginning to be very direct, but not very engaging. It had the feel of a joke: Three men walked into a bar... This works for getting a quick laugh but doesn't seem like the style for a novel. I'm thinking a bit of research on show versus tell might make this piece a bit more lively.

Another item I noticed was the POV is rather fuzzy. The title is "Confessions of an Honest Man." Yet it talks of the three men as a whole, not identifying who's the key player. Who is the story about? I find that mentioning the name of the MC in the first paragraph (preferably the first sentence) helps ground the reader in the POV of the MC. By doing so, it also takes you out of the collective "they," allowing the readers to connect with one specific person.

You have the action at the end of the scene which might get the reader to perk up and wonder what's happening. However, you have to get the reader there first by presenting a setting which draws them in. I speak for myself; others might feel differently. But I'm not pulled into the story as it is. Consider giving personality to your characters. There's a bit more to storytelling than just narrating what happened in a step by step fashion. Think about why the reader should care about your characters and then bring it to life.

I did like that you were descriptive. It shows you have an eye for details. If you can put the same kind of details in your character development/personality (rather just inanimate objects), I think it would improve your story greatly.

Thanks again for offering your work up for sacrifice. Good luck in your writing adventure.
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Postby MelissaA » 10 Sep 2010, 10:57

Thanks for offering your page up for critique!

This is one of those pages where I'd like to see what follows, because I want to see if there's a reason for the distance in the writing. We are being told what's happening by some distant, omnicient narrator. It's hard to connect, hard to feel any surprise at the end of the page, because I'm just reading a sequence of events, recited without emotion, completely detatched. My guess is that this is just a set up scene, and we'll switch to a completely different point of view in the next scene.

Even if these musicians never appear in the story again, I'd get more impact from the events that are beginning to unfold if we followed one of the musicians at a somewhat lesser distance. We don't need to know his life story, but if you want me to feel surprise, then I need to feel what he's feeling. Let me follow one point of view through the whole scene, even if this guy is ultimately just an observer of the unfolding events. Right now this page is all telling. I'd connect better if it was showing.
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Postby Quill » 10 Sep 2010, 11:09

This opening page seems a few drafts shy of polished perfection but it basically works.

Very atmospheric, with nice detail, it puts me there in the scene, and ends with an effective surprise.
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Postby Ermo » 10 Sep 2010, 11:19

Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed this selection.

I think you did a nice job of setting up the hook/suspense at the end of the piece. I would suggest that you add a bit more personality/character development in the first part. There's a bang and some excitement, but I have no idea who the protag might be or if I should care. Maybe the dudes in the car are bad guys, maybe not. My suggestion for making scenes like what I expect to follow to be more than just a cliche scene is to give us someone to root for, give us some invested interest. I think you'd be surprised how quickly you are able to do that, even in just 250 words.

Nice work, I like it. I wonder if the time/date is necessary either, unless I'm supposed to know who these guys are? Am I? Otherwise, I just think the time and place will reveal itself from other details.

Good luck.
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Postby Holly » 10 Sep 2010, 11:49

July, 1967. Detroit, Michigan
Three musicians were standing beside the club’s back door, under a canvas awning with scalloped trim. They wore black tuxedoes, replete with cummerbunds, bow ties and shoes polished to mirror perfection. The tallest of the three, a man in his early sixties, wore a red poppy in his lapel. The others had white carnations.
This is an interesting beginning. We're back in the 1960s behind a club. You go to great detail to point out the scallops on the awning and the color of the flowers for each character, but you don't give us their names. Why? I have to echo what others have said about POV. This would grab me more if I started reading about Jack and two other musicians standing by the club's back door. A few people stopped to shake their hands and offer words of praise. Telling -- this would be more effective if you showed some actual dialogue here. Someone laughed a boozy laugh. When the people had drifted away, the older musician butted his cheroot in the sand of an ashtray. He stepped off the concrete pad and walked towards his car.

The other two followed casually, about fifteen seconds apart. Whose POV are we in? Who sees them? The narrator? They got into the vehicle and quietly closed the door.
Soon they were engrossed in the ritual of the pipe: lighting, inhaling, holding their breath, exhaling. It was cozy in the Continental’s plush interior. Who feels that it's cozy? Air came through the upholstery’s leather seams, as if the vehicle sighed. I like this description about the car -- I've heard that sound before. The men were settling down, recharging their nerves for the next set, the last set. Whose POV are we in here? Also, this is telling, Show us some dialogue where they say they are getting ready for the next set. It was one o’clock in the morning. More telling. Show us the time. Does somebody look at a watch and say the time? Is there a big clock on a building?BANG! A sound like a bomb shocked the trio with sudden terror. More telling. Put us in somebody's POV and show us the dry mouth, hand flying to the face, clenching the seat. Their bodies reacted before their brains registered the sound. Here you are telling us that they reacted, and in the next sentence you show us the reaction. I would cut this sentence. They ducked, and their hands flew to cover their heads.
The car lurched as a man dove across the hood, holding a pistol in his right hand. His legs swam wildly as he fought to stop his momentum. Great image here. Whatever tactic he had in mind, it wasn’t working.

Best wishes to you. I enjoyed your excerpt and would like to know what happens next.
Last edited by Holly on 10 Sep 2010, 12:11, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Postby ericabertel » 10 Sep 2010, 12:07

I like the imagery in the piece, but it reads more like a script in the beginning than a novel. If you are writing in 3rd person I would add some more personal details to draw me in as a reader. Unless there is a specific reason for the omniscent POV. I'm wondering if the musicians are just a way to introduce your MC (the man flying over the car)?

Everything else works very well to draw the reader in.
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Postby Mike Peterson » 10 Sep 2010, 12:15

Word-for-word, this is good writing, but it fails to engage me as a whole because it's so very distant.

I had the same response, alas, as the reviewer who suggested that the distant POV makes it sound like a set up for a joke -- Three guys walked into a bar. But it does suggest one change, which is that jokes are often told in the historic present -- Three guys walk into a bar -- and that might close the distance a little, if that's what you want. And, unless this is going to segue into your honest man waking up in a cold sweat once again, as he has so often since that fateful day, then you need to close the distance. I think shifting to the historic present would help.

As someone suggested, a snatch or two or dialogue would also help. This feels as if it's being viewed through a very thick pane of glass. Again, that might be your intent, if this is a flashback dream of a narrator who will soon emerge to engage us.

But "Bang" doesn't work, especially in ALL CAPS. You can sometimes get away with italics, but not all caps, and, basically, sound effects just aren't a common element of fiction writing anyway.

Again, not bad writing. Some very nice touches in the description. But get us involved.
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Postby hyoussef » 10 Sep 2010, 13:46

Your description was vivid, I could picture everything clearly. You are using omniscient point of view, I think, and that keeps the reader a bit distanced. I think this would feel more immediate if you used limited third person - get closer to one of the characters. By the end of the first page we should at least know who the main characters are - but maybe these aren't main characters. Still, you could show this scene from one of the musician's perspectives to get closer.

example:
Sam stood beside the club's back door in his black tuxedo, replete with cumberbund, bow tie and shoes polished to perfection. The other two musicians sharing space under the canvas awning with scalloped trim wore identical suits, but they wore white carnations in their lapels. His was a red poppy. Being the oldest...

This isn't perfect, but it gives you the idea. I think it draws the reader in closer.

Thanks for sharing.
:)
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Postby marilyn peake » 10 Sep 2010, 14:13

artrosch,

I like this a lot. One main problem is that, at the beginning, there appears to be a bit too much description that sounds like a list. If you could weave all your description into the story more naturally, I think the story would be more intriguing. Overall, I really like this excerpt!
Marilyn Peake

Novels: THE FISHERMAN’S SON TRILOGY and GODS IN THE MACHINE. Numerous short stories. Contributor to BOOK: THE SEQUEL. Editor of several additional books. Awards include Silver Award, 2007 ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards.
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Postby robbina2 » 10 Sep 2010, 14:28

Thank you for sharing your 250 words.

I appreciate your eye for detail, which is strong, but I think may also work against you some. The details came across to me more as telling instead of showing. A little bit of dialogue or character reflection may help to reveal some of this same information without it seeming so play by play. I came away wanting more of a personal connection to one of these people, and if none of them are your MC, I would suggest finding a way to tie him/her into this piece a little sooner, or let us know who he/she is. I think it would draw the reader in better.

There are some passive or weaker tense or verb choices for me, such as: were standing, got, were settling, which I would suggest punching them up to more active or stronger forms, such as: stood, climbed, settled. Though some of the verb choices appealed to me, such as shocked and lurched.

The year the story takes place excites me as well as the bomb or explosion. With a little reworking as others have suggested, I think you'll be in fine shape.

Again, thanks for sharing and good luck to you in your endeavors.

-Angie
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Postby wilderness » 10 Sep 2010, 14:51

Hi artrosch,
The piece works for me, with some very nice imagery: the sigh of the leather and the boozy laugh. It does feel very distant, so I'm hoping that this is a prologue and when we meet our MC the voice will become a little more intimate. That is not to say that a distant narrator can't work -- it depends on the novel and how well you carry it off. Also, I agree with another commenter that I'm not a fan of using "BANG" as it seems a little comic-booky. Nice work.
Good luck!
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Postby Holly » 10 Sep 2010, 15:10

One more quick comment. What kind of music do the musicians play? The story starts in the late 1960s, but the musicians are not dressed like hippies. Jazz? Big band? If you decide to include a little dialogue as the patrons leave the club, the type of music would determine the audience and their remarks.
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Postby suja12 » 10 Sep 2010, 15:23

When I read this, I had the feeling that I was watching the whole scene happening on a screen, like a movie, but I couldn't get the emotions, the feelings. You distanced the characters from us, the readers. But the scene is very vivid, very clearly described and very easy to visualize, but it did not allow us to be a part of it.

Suja
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Postby Regan Leigh » 10 Sep 2010, 16:40

Title: Confessions Of An Honest Man
Word Count: 250


July, 1967. Detroit, Michigan
Three musicians were standing beside the club’s back door, under a canvas awning with scalloped trim. *This first sentence doesn't really catch me. It feels too sterile and matter of fact.* They wore black tuxedoes, replete *odd word choice, replete implies that the tux covered in cummerbunds...I think. :) ) with cummerbunds, bow ties and shoes polished to mirror perfection. *I can see the mirrored shoe reference well. Good visual. * The tallest of the three, a man in his early sixties, wore a red poppy in his lapel. The others had white carnations. *Good detail about the flowers, but is there a reason for it to be there? I think it would be better to skip to the tension and action much sooner.* A few people stopped to shake their hands and offer words of praise. Someone laughed a boozy laugh. *Repeated * When the people had drifted away, the older musician butted his cheroot *You lost me with this wordage and I don't think you want someone stopping to look up a word within the first paragraph.* in the sand of an ashtray. He stepped off the concrete pad and walked towards his car.

The other two followed casually, about fifteen seconds apart. *Is this detail important?* They got into the vehicle and quietly closed the door (*Period? New paragraph? Maybe the forum formatted this weird.*)
Soon they were engrossed in the ritual of the pipe: lighting, inhaling, holding their breath, exhaling. It was cozy in the Continental’s plush interior. Air came through the upholstery’s leather seams, as if the vehicle sighed. *Wouldn't the seats exhale air as they sat down, not after being seated and smoking? I also keep thinking you should combine some sentences. You tend to have a lot of the same length, shorter sentences.* The men were settling down, recharging their nerves for the next set, the last set. It was one o’clock in the morning. *A set in a new place they're traveling to or are they just hanging out in the car?*
BANG! *I like the next sentence describing the sound without the word bang.* A sound like a bomb shocked the trio with sudden terror. *Something is off with this sentence, but I'm not sure what it is... Redundant, I think.* Their bodies reacted before their brains registered the sound. They ducked, and their hands flew to cover their heads.

The car lurched as a man dove across the hood, holding a pistol in his right hand. His legs swam wildly as he fought to stop his momentum. Whatever tactic he had in mind, it wasn’t working. *Visually, I'm confused here. But it's a good last line. :)*


****

I'm intrigued and want to know what all is going on here. I was thrown off by the rhythm in the writing because it felt a little distant. I would recommend reading this aloud to yourself. I think you'll see what I mean. Reading aloud always helps me. :) Also, I really liked how you were able to make it sound all film noir. :)

Good job! Thanks for posting and allowing us to crit! I know that's hard and nerve racking!
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