Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Offer up your page (or query) for Nathan's critique on the blog.
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alicef
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Post by alicef » September 10th, 2010, 8:25 pm

I love the 60's and the blues. Perhaps you could name this trio. Is there music drifting through the street from a juke box inside? I'm guessing the three are witnesses to what is happening and not the main character. You say three musicians, where's the singer? I love the action in the last paragraph, I just need some grounding and need to feel more about these characters. I agree with some other comments. You need to show us not tell us.

The three musicians stood under the scalloped awning outside the club.


I would read on to see who the guy is on the hood of the car. The mood you portray feels like the 60's. I'm sure Nathan will give you some good pointers.

ElizaJane
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Post by ElizaJane » September 10th, 2010, 8:52 pm

The first paragraph and the third (from BANG) have too many descriptors that sound familiar and therefore fall flat. The description feels somehow perfunctory, unexciting. Even though there's a lot of detail, it doesn't seem unusual enough to engage us. The paragraph in between succeeds better in evoking the scene because some of its imagery is more unexpected. Somehow the ritual of the pipe was more sensory, more satisfying.
The very last line was great, made me laugh.

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Nathan Bransford
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Post by Nathan Bransford » September 10th, 2010, 9:10 pm

I think this is a strong page buttressed with very nice details that don't feel overdone. I particularly liked the "scalloped trim" of the awning, the sighing car, and the "mirror perfection" of the shoes (thought it should probably be mirrored, no?).

While I think on a sentence-to-sentence level this page mainly works, as others have noted, it feels just a bit dispassionate and very surface driven. That's not necessarily a problem, but other than the ritual of the pipe, the three musicians aren't really given much more life than the other items in the scene, and it seems like there's more room to bestow them with a bit more personality.

My other main thought has to do with the BANG and the action that follows. I don't actually have a problem with an onomatopoeia necessarily, but I think the reason this feels just a tad off is that it's followed up with a sentence that feels a bit clunky: "A sound like a bomb shocked the trio with sudden terror." Not only is it imprecise (they're not shocked with terror), but it's too long of a sentence to convey urgency. When action starts it's time for the sentences to be quick and straightforward, which both conveys the pace as well as feels realistic given the situation. In panicked moments we don't have long drawn out thoughts, we notice things in quick bursts.

So, for instance, is it necessary to note that the man held a pistol in his right hand or just that he has a pistol? I'd recommend: "The car lurched as a man holding a pistol dove across the hood. His legs swam wildly as he fought to stop his momentum."

Other than these concerns, I think this reads very smoothly and I really liked the author's sense of detail, which goes a long long way. Nicely done.

My redline:
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 Love this detail. They wore black tuxedoes, replete Feels like a dollar word where none would do fine with cummerbunds, bow ties and shoes polished to mirrored perfection. The tallest of the three, a man in his early sixties, wore a red poppy in his lapel. The others had white carnations More good details. A few people stopped to shake their hands and offer words of praise. Someone laughed a boozy laugh This feels oddly imprecise when everything had been noted with such meticulous detail up to this point. This seems like where there could be more personality. 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 holding a pistol 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 Didn't really believe this last bit. Sliding across a car isn't really a "tactic." Seems a bit too clever and the hand of the author too clear. If he slides across the car and lands on his face we'll know whatever he had in mind didn't work.

k10wnsta
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Post by k10wnsta » September 10th, 2010, 9:11 pm

Passive voice is an issue here (particularly with the first line).

Reena mentioned the first line being reminiscent of a 'Three men walked into a bar...' joke, and that provides an excellent means to demonstrate passive voice vs. active voice:

Which sounds better?
Three men were walking into a bar...
or
Three men walked into a bar...

On the plus side, for the author, this is a very easy fix.
How vain it is to sit down and write when you have not stood up to live.
--Henry David Thoreau

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Nathan Bransford
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Post by Nathan Bransford » September 10th, 2010, 9:26 pm

I don't believe the first sentence is passive. If I'm not mistaken "Three musicians were standing beside the club’s back door" is past continuous. Passive would be something like, "Three musicians were found beside the club's back door."

MelissaA
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Post by MelissaA » September 10th, 2010, 9:28 pm

Passive voice is an issue here (particularly with the first line).
The first line isn't passive. "Were standing" is past progressive tense. It means the action is in progress, and it's a perfectly legitimate tense to use.

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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Post by MissivesFromSuburbia » September 10th, 2010, 11:57 pm

I agree with the comment that a passive voice is overused here, particularly in the first paragraph, which is overly expository. I know it's a cliche, but the second paragraph and subsequent lines do a better job of showing, rather than telling.

But you've got my attention. I want to know what happens next. That's not easy to do with so few words.

GerriB
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Post by GerriB » September 11th, 2010, 6:20 am

Three things jumped out at me about this clip, and they're all intertwined. The voice of this piece is too distant, due in a large part to the abuse of the past progressive. There's no reason to have the progressive tense, esp. at the opening of the book. As readers, we assume that yes, things have happened, and are going to continue to happen as it goes. That languid feel that the progressive gives acts to distance the action from the reader. The reader is held not just at arms' length, but at across the street length. The progressive tense isn't the only reason for that distancing voice, but that's a prose thing that can easily be written out.

The third thing, though, is that I've got no reason to care about any of these characters. Heck, I don't even know who they are, no names, just that they're snappy dressers and musicians. And jumpy about loud noises. I've got no connection, and I simply don't care. It's all part and parcel of that voice.

Herein lies the problem with omniscient POV without an obvious narrator. Who is telling the story? Why is this story important? Great, lots of physical details. But no emotions. No connections. No nitty gritty. I feel like I'm watching one of those old fashioned black and white no sound movies with the tinny soundtrack, and I'm waiting for the crazy guy with the mustache to show up.

Yes, yes, I know. Don't want to give away the surprise. Can do only so much in the first 250 words. Want to ground the audience in physical details. Except that it's not working for me. Why should I care about three nattily-dressed older musicians and a guy trying to drive a car with a gun in his hand?

My "forest for the trees" bell is ringing right now, tbh. The writer seemed to have spent too much effort in setting the scene in visuals and movie-like cinematics, that exact image in mind, and forgot that prose writing isn't script writing. Honestly, this snip would make an excellent opening to a movie. While the setting of this scene would work wonderfully in a spec script, as prose, not so much. Where are the other four senses (taste, touch, scent, and emotion)?

It's not easy to transition either way between prose and script writing, and some people simply have more talent for one type over another. It's something for the writer of this snip to explore if interested.

Frances
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Post by Frances » September 11th, 2010, 7:19 am

I liked this piece. Although the first paragraph sets a passive tone, the imagery gave me a clear visual. As the scene is set in Detroit in 1967, close to the Canadian border, I wondered at the significance of the red poppy in the older man's lapel. Was he a WW1 veteran or did it symbolise the opium trade as they smoked a pipe in the second paragraph? If the first paragraph was deliberately passive in order to introduce the sudden shock of the BANG, it didn't quite come off for me. That's just a matter of a little tweaking as others have suggested.

It did feel like the narrator was standing across the street describing the scene but that didn't bother me. The narrator will show himself more clearly, I suspect, as the word count goes up. As it is set in the past it could be a detective reading an eye witness account of a cold case for example. The piece left me with questions I'd like answered and therefore wanted to read more. Well done for having the courage to post your story. I'd like to read on.

ria
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Post by ria » September 11th, 2010, 11:38 am

Hey artrosch,

nice start here, though I think it suffers a little from trying too hard. I found your choice of words to be somewhat odd in places. Like "he stepped off the concrete pad," "When the people had drifted away," (this didn't read well), "his legs swam" and I have no idea what a cummerbund is. Now, I know that's my fault, but how many other people don't know what it is. You don't want to send readers fishing for their dictionary in the first paragraph.

I did like the description of the thee men, though. I liked its subtlety. And I like the way you showed us they were just finished a gig that had gone well. Clearly, these three enjoy a good life - they have made it as musicians.

I'd say work on this a little more. As it is, it seems a little disjointed, or maybe it's that you are trying to be too precise in what you are writing. Loosen up a bit and you could have something wonderful.
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k10wnsta
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Post by k10wnsta » September 11th, 2010, 9:16 pm

I rescind my appropriation of passive voice, because it was, as pointed out, misappropriated. I've always included telling (rather than showing) as a mode of passivity in self-evaluation and I'm so far removed from the lit courses that taught the strict definition that I posted the way I would assess it in my own work without a second thought. It was a reckless thing to do and I apologize.
How vain it is to sit down and write when you have not stood up to live.
--Henry David Thoreau

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Mira
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Post by Mira » September 11th, 2010, 9:22 pm

k10wnsta - hey. At least you know what passive voice IS. I have no idea what any of you are talking about. Bet polymath would though. :)

Love your critique, Nathan. I felt exactly the same about the beginning - and got stuck in exactly the same place - when the action started. You always say clearly what I'm thinking.

edit: changed this paragraph, because I thought this was good, and wanted to make my feedback stronger:

Although, this isn't my genre, and I'm always abit nervous about giving feedback when it's not a genre I love. But I thought this was a very good beginning, that would draw folks into a world of men and danger. Go for it!!
Last edited by Mira on September 12th, 2010, 2:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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D. G. Hudson
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Post by D. G. Hudson » September 12th, 2010, 1:55 pm

I really liked this excerpt. I don't mind the beginning, but I would like to see dialogue added to bring these characters to life. I like the setting of the jazz club, and hints of darker undertones come through in the scene in the car (what kind of pipe was that?). The POV can be omniscient, I like knowing the different viewpoints. And then -- the action kicks up a notch!

This seems like a great beginning, just needs a little work. I agree with Nathan's redline, and we all learn from that, so thanks for the lesson and for submitting your piece, artrosch.

Now I want to know where the setting is for that jazz club. . .
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rose
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Post by rose » September 12th, 2010, 2:15 pm

I was completely engaged in your scene-setting passages, perhaps because of my own recollections of musicians and the Detroit/Cincinnati blues scene. Detroit hums an inner city, play of light on uneven brick weave streets, sharp bite of wind in the air music of its own. If you want or need to capture that, don't be afraid to make music with your language: see The Jazzmen by Carl Sandburg.. (And, if you haven't read it yet, the absolute best book for giving one courage to write freely is SPUNK AND BITE by Arthur Plotnik.)

Your observation is keen, but I think you might benefit from paying attention to delivery cadence, particularly when you shift to the gunshot action. Those sequences seemed to be slowed by your meticulous reportage, rather than energized with adrenalin. Perhaps that is a stylistic choice that you are going to play up in later developments, it is impossible to judge from one page.

Overall, I was drawn solidly into your story and impressed by your skill. Thanks for sharing.

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larspergou
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Post by larspergou » September 13th, 2010, 8:01 pm

Past continuous is correct. There is much misunderstanding of what constitutes passive voice.

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