Page Critique Friday 10/1/10

Offer up your page (or query) for Nathan's critique on the blog.
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Nathan Bransford
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Page Critique Friday 10/1/10

Post by Nathan Bransford » October 1st, 2010, 12:23 pm

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 529 pages up for critique. The random number generator at random.org says.....

500!!

Congrats to katehyde, whose page is below:

Title: The Vestibule of Heaven
Genre: "Book club" fiction
Word count: 250

I knew her, of course, the first time she came to the house; one of the advantages of being dead is the ability to see beneath the surface.
When I willed the house and all its contents to her, I hadn’t ever seen her, not in all the thirty years since she first slipped into the world; all I had was her first name, Kelly, and one faded Polaroid picture of her at about a year old. I knew she had June Rose’s red hair and Victor’s green eyes; beyond that she just looked like a baby, like they all do at that age.
I gave the lawyers a copy of that picture, but I didn’t have much hope they’d ever be able to find her. But I wasn’t counting on the angels. I think they helped. At any rate, eventually—I don’t keep track of time any more; could have been a week, could have been years—the lawyers found her, and she came. My granddaughter came to me at last.
When I made that will, I only thought of her—that I could maybe give her something to make up to her for everything she’d lost, a piece of the family she’d never had. I never expected to be around even to see how it all worked out. But things are different on the other side from what I’d thought, and it looks like my leaving her the house was a pretty important thing for me as well.

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Re: Page Critique Friday 10/1/10

Post by JMB » October 1st, 2010, 12:43 pm

I like the idea, grandmother getting to know grand-daughter from the grave by willing her the family estate. The problem with the opening is I couldn't follow the sequence of events: what happened before and what happened after granny's death. I also would have liked to have been taken by surprise a bit more, maybe wait to reveal the twist until a few sentences in. I would have liked the grandmother to see the daughter enter the house, recognize her from her parents features and then find out the grandmother is dead. And less ruminating in a vague way about how the 'other side' is different. Get me into the story!!

Is book club fiction a recognized genre?

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Re: Page Critique Friday 10/1/10

Post by acraig85 » October 1st, 2010, 1:12 pm

I really loved this. Having been closer to my own grandmother than anyone on the planet, I was especially intrigued. My only suggestion is to take out one line in the second paragraph -- "I think they helped." (Referring to not having counted on the angels.) (If I'm misquoting, sorry! I'm new at this and don't know how to look back :/ ) But the preceding sentence looked much stronger to me on its own, with no explanation.
The balance of information and mystery in this opening was great -- it really had me on my toes to see what was happening and made me want to read the rest! :)

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Re: Page Critique Friday 10/1/10

Post by Mike Peterson » October 1st, 2010, 1:26 pm

This is quite good. There are phrases I would play with as an editor, but nothing major, and the overall flow is just fine. I like that you are giving the narrator a voice without turning her into an eccentric. She's not bland but it's not like you're trying to hide a slim plot behind a larger-than-life personality. That gives me hope that you've got something for her to say, and I'd want to read more.

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Re: Page Critique Friday 10/1/10

Post by Dearth of Reason » October 1st, 2010, 1:37 pm

This is an appealing notion, to be able to watch events after your death and see how things worked out. Your writing has a soft touch that will bring a nice immediacy to the work.

On the critical side, my one point is that there is an excess... of punctuation, interjections, words in general, explanations. Some tightening of all that will bring us, your readers, a bit of mystery, and a smoother experience that allows us to get closer to the thoughts and feelings you want to convey. Have a look at the markups in red (all red would be removed) and see if you understand what I mean.

Good luck with this. I hope you keep at it!

_______________________________

I knew her, of course, the first time she came to the house; one of the advantages of being dead is the ability to see beneath the surface.
When I willed the house and all its contents to her, I hadn’t ever seen her, not in all the thirty years since she first slipped into the world; all I had was her first name, Kelly, and one faded Polaroid picture of her at about a year old. I knew she had June Rose’s red hair and Victor’s green eyes; beyond that she just looked like a baby, like they all do at that age.
I gave the lawyers a copy of that picture, but I didn’t have without much hope they’d ever be able to find her. But I wasn’t counting on the angels. I think they helped. At any rate, eventually,—I don’t keep track of time any more; could have been a week, could have been years—a month or a year, I don't know which, the lawyers found her, and she came. My granddaughter came to me at last.
When I made that will, I only thought of her—that I could maybe give giving her something to make up to her for everything she’d lost, a piece of the family she’d never had. I never expected to be around even to see how it all worked out. But things are different on the other side from what I’d thought, and it looks like my leaving her the house was a pretty important thing for me as well.

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Re: Page Critique Friday 10/1/10

Post by Guardian » October 1st, 2010, 1:47 pm

I like this opening. It's gentle and it's not jumping right into the action or the story itself, but presenting something else which is also serving a purpose. People used to say; I care only about the characters. I'm the opposite as I used to say, if we don't care about the world which is surrounding the events, you can't really understand the motivations of the character at all. Different backgrounds, different worlds used to give different characteristics, motivations and perspectives. Here, we're getting a detailed background story with an atmosphere, which is serving a purpose to understand the MC's life and background. Like in the real world, here the actions has a cause and effect, a beginning and an ending. Events happened in the past and they played a role in the MCs life. These traits are bringing the story closer to reality and making the character much more realistic.

I read only 250 words, but I already know a lot about the character, the surroundings and the background itself. In my eyes it's intriguing and I would read this one further.
Is book club fiction a recognized genre?
I wanted to ask the same.
Last edited by Guardian on October 1st, 2010, 2:30 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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ted
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Re: Page Critique Friday 10/1/10

Post by ted » October 1st, 2010, 2:01 pm

I like that it's easy to visualize the opening scene: 30-year-old Kelly tentatively entering a house she's never seen that now belongs to her. I'd guess most readers assume that the narrator is her grandmother, but there's nothing in the text that rules out it being her grandfather. So I was left wondering about that, and also about whose story we're going to hear -- the narrator's or Kelly's? Kelly is still alive, with a new house and a lost family, so the story should be about her. But since we're clearly in a life-after-death world, maybe the narrator finally gets to connect with Kelly from beyond the grave.

I knew her, of course, I'd skip the "of course" the first time she came to the house; one of the advantages of being dead is the ability to see beneath the surface surface of what? this could be sharpened... e.g. "see thoughts and dreams", "fully recognize the living", etc.)

When I willed the house and all its contents to her, I hadn’t ever seen her, not in all the thirty years since she first slipped into the world; all I had was her first name, Kelly, why no last name? and one faded Polaroid picture of her at about a year old. I knew she had June Rose’s red hair and Victor’s green eyes; not sure this justifies a semi-colon, rather than a new sentence beyond that she just looked like a baby, like they all do at that age.

I gave the lawyers a copy of that picture, but I didn’t have much hope they’d ever be able to find her. But I wasn’t counting on the angels. If all the lawyers had was a 30-year old photo of an infant, there must have been divine intervention. Letting the angels find Kelly strikes me as a little lazy on the part of the narrator and/or author. I think they helped. You could add something like, "or maybe they finally found the foster home records Kelly's aunt misplaced," which for me would add credibility. At any rate, eventually—I don’t keep track of time any more; could have been a week, could have been years—the lawyers found her, and she came. My granddaughter came to me at last.

When I made that will, I only thought of her—that I could maybe give her something to make up to her for everything she’d lost, a piece of the family she’d never had. I never expected to be around even to see how it all worked out. but you're not around, not really... even though this is clarified in the next sentence. So maybe say, "I never expected to learn how it all worked out." But things are different on the other side from what I’d thought, and it looks like my leaving her the house was a pretty important thing for me as well. OK, this tells me that the narrator's story isn't really over yet, that she or he still has something at stake.

If it's about Kelly connecting with her never-known and now deceased grandparent as she tackles challenges derived from "everything she'd lost", I think the story has lots of potential. I'd consider rewriting the first paragraphs to actually bring Kelly into focus more. Maybe show us Kelly walking through an empty room and tracing her finger across a dusty mantle, thereby triggering a memory for the narrator.

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Re: Page Critique Friday 10/1/10

Post by suja12 » October 1st, 2010, 2:34 pm

I liked the way you brought about the grand daughter's life (the parents, her having no family). That intrigues the reader who'll want to know what happened to the baby as she grew into a thirty-year-old woman. The only problem is, that sort of gets lost when you add the extra bits which are not critical (as mentioned by Dearth of Reason). So maybe tighten it up. Interesting concept. I would read more.
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Re: Page Critique Friday 10/1/10

Post by dsmith77 » October 1st, 2010, 3:01 pm

I like the concept, but it might be a difficult book to write. It reminds me of The Lovely Bones so there's a book for comparison purposes. I understand the movie doesn't do the book justice, but I digress.

Three things jump out at me:

First, the writing is decent, but not polished. It's not so much a matter of word choice but a matter of chronology. I liked what JMB » 01 Oct 2010, 12:43 said and recommend those changes. Identify which sentences are essential, break them out from the rest, put them in the best order (and you may play around here), and then add your supporting details back in. If you do this, it will be much stronger. You don't have to lose anything, just tighten up what you're saying.

Second, the word I comes up too often. A good trick to catch this sort of thing is to read the writing out loud or have it read out loud by a computer. Some of the offending sentences should be reworked to correct this.

Third, this is 100% telling and mostly backstory. Limit backstory to only what's needed. The best place to include it is when it's needed as well. There will probably be a certain amount that is necessary to start your story, but keep this to an absolute minimum. Be ruthless at cutting excess backstory. Regarding the telling, start the story off with some action or dialogue. Don't just offer a summary of events, takes us through the details - the granddaughter bringing in moving boxes, her reaction to the unfamiliar creaks of the house floorboards, her stubbing her foot and the grandmother's reaction to all this. Make it come alive for the reader.

BTW, I like the title. It's unique too.

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Re: Page Critique Friday 10/1/10

Post by J. T. SHEA » October 1st, 2010, 3:12 pm

Intriguing, Katehyde. "Book club" fiction sounds a bit limiting a label for what is basically fantasy. I would definitely read on.

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Re: Page Critique Friday 10/1/10

Post by agyw » October 1st, 2010, 3:41 pm

I would read more of this, and the two criticisms I would offer, too much interjection and a difficult comparison to The Lovely Bones, would be noted. I think Dearth of Reason did a wonderful job of bringing the flow and writing to the point. The only reason I interject, I think this could be pushed slightly further in voice. Voice can be the rhythm of language, which I think is being employed here, but also the terminology and phrasing. Perhaps with a few choice words or patter, not only would we get the idea of the grandmother, but the feel and placement of her... is she southern, pushy and demanding, retiring, wistful? Further, perhaps more could be revealed about the granddaughter, if this is for the younger readership, as they would have to relate to her and not the grandmother. But I like there are so many questions that I want answered- hence I would read on.

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Re: Page Critique Friday 10/1/10

Post by Nathan Bransford » October 1st, 2010, 5:15 pm

This excerpt has an engaging style, and the voice has potential - on a sentence to sentence level I don't have many nitpicks (though the punctuation seems a tad off), and while it may rely just a bit too heavily on interjections to establish a conversational tone, I think the voice has a strong sense of character.

I have two main thoughts. The first is opening the first sentence with someone who is dead. I know there's a temptation to want to just go ahead and alert the reader that the narrator is dead in the first sentence, but over the past few years the "Description description, but then again, I'm dead" opening has become so common it's become a bit of a cliche. As far as "But then again, I'm dead" openings this one is not objectionable on its own - there's really nothing wrong with it, except perhaps with the semi-colon. But I have to caution that this is one of those openings, like someone waking up or looking in a mirror or an opening along the lines of, "It was a day like any other, but little did X Character know that things were about to change," that could have an agent inwardly groaning. I think it's probably better to ease into a dead narrator rather than trying to force it into the first sentence.

Secondly, I wonder if there could be just a bit more done to lead the reader from one idea to the next and make sure the reader is grounded in the narrative. The narrative jumps around from one thing to the next without necessarily keeping the reader filled in, and there were parts where I had a hard time tracking what was happening -- I wasn't exactly sure how the narrator gave the lawyers the picture if he/she was dead, then angels were helping but I wasn't sure how or with what. With a bit clearer organization, I think the voice will really shine.

My redline:
Nathan Bransford wrote:
Title: The Vestibule of Heaven
Genre: "Book club" fiction
Word count: 250

I knew her, of course, the first time she came to the house; (Not sure why the semi-colon is used here, doesn't feel totally natural) one of the advantages of being dead is the ability to see beneath the surface.
When I willed the house and all its contents to her "her" feels like you're holding out on the reader. Why not call her Kelly here?, I hadn’t ever seen her, not in all the thirty years since she first slipped into the world ;. aAll I had was her first name, Kelly, and one faded Polaroid picture of her at about a year old. I knew she had June Rose’s red hair and Victor’s green eyes; beyond that she just looked like a baby, like they all do at that age.
I gave the lawyers a copy of that picture, but I didn’t have much hope they’d ever be able to find her. But I wasn’t counting on the angels This feels like non-sequitor. Counting on them for what?. I think they helped Helped what?. At any rate, eventually—I don’t keep track of time any more;, could have been a week, could have been years doesn't ring true since narrator was specific it had been thirty years earlier—the lawyers found her, and she came. My granddaughter came to me at last.
When I made that will, I only thought of her—that I could maybe give her something to make up to her for everything she’d lost, a piece of the family she’d never had. I never expected to be around even to see how it all worked out. But things are different on the other side from what I’d thought, and it looks like myleaving her the house was a pretty important thing for me as well.

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Re: Page Critique Friday 10/1/10

Post by Regan Leigh » October 1st, 2010, 5:34 pm

[quote="Nathan Bransford"]I have two main thoughts. The first is opening the first sentence with someone who is dead. I know there's a temptation to want to just go ahead and alert the reader that the narrator is dead, but over the past few years the "Description description, but then again, I'm dead" opening has become so common it's become a bit of a cliche. As far as "But then again, I'm dead" openings this one is not objectionable on its own - there's really nothing wrong with it, except perhaps with the semi-colon. But I have to caution that this is one of those openings, like someone waking up or looking in a mirror or an opening along the lines of, "It was a day like any other, but little did X Character know that things were about to change," that could have an agent inwardly groaning. I think it's probably better to ease into a dead narrator rather than trying to force it into the first sentence.


And here's proof that these critiques help more people than just the one writer that gets picked.

The opening to my MS:
“Rise and shine, pretty boy!” I shout at him, but he doesn’t respond. Of course not. Almost two months have passed and I’m still dead.

Well, crap. :D *Ponders edits for the opener. Again.*
Image

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J. T. SHEA
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Re: Page Critique Friday 10/1/10

Post by J. T. SHEA » October 1st, 2010, 5:54 pm

Nathan, why do you consider 'different...than' to be better than 'different...from' in the last sentence?

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Re: Page Critique Friday 10/1/10

Post by Remmik » October 1st, 2010, 5:59 pm

Regan Leigh wrote: and I’m still dead.

Well, crap. :D
LOL! Thanks for sharing that, Regan Leigh.

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