Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

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

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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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Postby alicef » 10 Sep 2010, 17:25

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.
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Postby ElizaJane » 10 Sep 2010, 17:52

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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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Postby Nathan Bransford » 10 Sep 2010, 18:10

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.
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Postby k10wnsta » 10 Sep 2010, 18:11

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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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Postby Nathan Bransford » 10 Sep 2010, 18:26

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."
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Postby MelissaA » 10 Sep 2010, 18:28

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

Postby MissivesFromSuburbia » 10 Sep 2010, 20:57

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.
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Postby GerriB » 11 Sep 2010, 03:20

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.
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Postby Frances » 11 Sep 2010, 04:19

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.
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Re: Page Critique Friday 9/10/10

Postby ria » 11 Sep 2010, 08:38

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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