Nathan Bransford, Author


Monday, June 14, 2010

Page Critique Monday

It's Monday, which means it's time for Ye Olde Page Critique!

As a reminder, we've switched over to a new system for submitting pages for critique - if you're interested in submitting a page, please enter it in this thread in the Forums, which I will be drawing upon in coming weeks.

And! Since we've done a few page critiques in a row, next Monday we'll have Query Critique Monday - if you're interested in submitting your query for possible critique, please enter it in this thread.

Below is the page up for critique, and I'll be back later with a new post containing my critique. Please please please remember the sandwich rule when offering your thoughts: positive, very very constructive thoughts, positive.

As of this posting there were 188 comments in the Page Critique thread - the first was mine. I searched for a number between 2 and 188 on random.org, and the winner was.....

116!!!

Here's Chuck H.'s page. I'll be back this afternoon with my thoughts.

TITLE: Old Farts
GENRE: Mystery/Suspense

Chapter One

“Have you ever killed anyone?”

I thought about that one for a while as I contemplated my companion who was staring out across the valley. Joe was about my age—somewhere in the neighborhood of sixty—compact, wiry with a full head of gray hair speckled here and there with dark spots. I thought to myself that, with his dark complexion and that nose, he must have had some Indian ancestry. Excuse me, Native American. Evidently my contemplation had gone on too long.

“Well, have you?”

It was a simple question but not so easy to answer. I had been involved, peripherally at least, in a war. I had worn the uniform and, technically, I had been in a war zone. However, I hadn’t carried a weapon or shot at people. But I had made it possible for others to bomb hell out of folks on the ground and shoot down folks in the air. Then there was that gig as a company man after the war. Had I ever killed anyone? I lied.

“No.”

Joe turned to stare at me for a moment then directed his attention back to the million dollar view from my front porch.

“Me neither.”

We sat for a while in silence. I was trying to decide whether or not I should call him a liar. God only knows what he was thinking. I finally made up my mind to confront him.

“I always thought that you were . . .”

“I lied.”






42 comments:

swampfox said...

Old Farts?
OK, I like the premise.
I would read more based on this excerpt.

Jaycee said...

I liked this. Interesting. Although, the problem with this was I thought he was the one asking Joe the question at first, and not the reverse.

Sandy Cody said...

Intriquing first line, one that makes me want to know more. I would suggest compressing the descriptive passages between the dialogue. I would, however, continue reading because it's such an interesting premise.

Amanda Sablan said...

Chuck H.: You definitely have an intriguing first sentence, and it immediately made me want to read on! I like where this story is going.

I just hope that within the next couple paragraphs you provide information on the characters and their precise location. But perhaps in the first paragraph you can give a little bit more of a hint? For instance, if the setting is, say, a city in Texas, give the city name, or just say "across the Texan valley." And then as the chapter progresses, give ALL the details we need.

Josin L. McQuein said...

I'd cut:

I thought about that one for a while as I contemplated my companion who was staring out across the valley. completely.


This line:

Evidently my contemplation had gone on too long.

I'd either strike out or move to a position after the next line of dialogue to improve the flow.

Also watch out for things like "I thought to myself." Unless your guy is a telepath, of course he's thinking to himself. You don't need to point it out.

Personally, I think his internal monologue strays out of answering the question in character and toes the line at preaching. It feels like you're trying too hard to say "War is bad and anyone who participates is a killer!!!"

That may not be your intent, but it's what I got out of it. I think you have some voice issues you can rectify with word choice, and you need to do so.

What I see as a problem here is with the scene's set-up. It's stationary. You have two guys sitting on a porch talking and doing nothing else. At least if they were fishing you'd have the poles to use or bait or something. One could swig a beer or spit tobacco.

Without the aid of action, the dialogue has to be compelling and the voice spot on perfect. I think you tried for that, but didn't quite get there.

Bane of Anubis said...

I like. Not sure you need some of the ending bits on the paragraphs (e.g., "Evidently my contemplation..." and I lied"), but there's definitely a nice amount of intrigue built in and nice, smooth pacing, IMO. And I 2nd what Amanda said about hoping more info crops up soon.

MJR said...

I liked this opening--we get insights into the main character and some background info without it feeling like an info-dump. I agree with Jaycee that the dialogue without attribution is a little confusing here. You might want to include a "beat," a little action after the dialogue to indicate who is talking. You also might want to consider introducing the conflict sooner--right now it's an interesting conversation, but I'm not sure what it's leading to.

Amanda Sablan said...

Instead of putting "I lied" in the paragraph before "No," put that after no, so it reads like this:

"No," I lied.

It's not exactly obvious that that character really has killed someone, so keep "I lied."

Ermo said...

I like the voice. Pulled me in. I think you just need to tighten a bit. A couple tags not needed (thought, etc.). You don't need to say he thought too long, we'll get that when he's interrupted. Good luck.

ryan field said...

I tend to like books with strong voices like this. One of the few things I'd edit just to tighten it up would be losing this line...I "thought to myself that,"

But I know for a fact other people would disagree with me.

Suze said...

I actually really, really liked this. I was intrigued and now I want to find out more about the narrator and Joe. I didn't get anything that Josin did about the war; it didn't seem judgemental or preachy to me at all. I also liked that there wasn't too much of anything going on except two men having a short conversation with deep undercurrents. I guess that's why everything's subjective! Nice work.

Anonymous said...

This really appealed to me as it seemed quite strong in a quiet way. And, personally, I like that they are sitting quietly on a front porch - I get the feeling it sets the tone of the book.

My favorite line: "Excuse me, Native American." It seemed just the sort of thing someone who had grown up a generation ahead of mine would say - struggling for the new politically correct terminology.

Agree with every one else about losing the "I thought to myself."

Overall, well done.

Debbie said...

I like the premise and your voice.

I wanted there to be something at stake, though. Some kind of tension. Instead it was two old farts on a porch, with a lot of exposition going on in one guy's head. Now, if they're both cleaning guns on that porch, there's a whole different dimension to the discussion.

Looks like you've got a lot of people interested in reading more. That's a very good thing.

Congratulations

Erin said...

This hooked me, I want to know more. I agree with Amanda. 'I lied' should be with 'No'. Personally I would like to see it:
'I lied. "No."'
But that's just me.
I also like that they're sitting on the porch doing nothing, that sounds like a lot of old men I know around where I live, so I can picture that in my head easily. Good job.

Erin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mesmerix said...

I liked the premise and the voice. I'd like to know more about the setting, some quirky detail that places them. "Million dollar view" is intriguing, but doesn't give me a decent image.

I would also cut the extra stuff that others have pointed out like "I thought" etc.

Finally, I wanted to say that I didn't feel any preachiness or issues with the narrators voice. Just as a different perspective to what Josin said. Every reader is going to get something a bit different.

Julie Musil said...

I love the first line. And, I would most definitely be interested in reading more.

Patti said...

I agree with Jaycee, I thought he was asking the question.

Lorin said...

I agree that the line "Evidently my contemplation had gone on too long." is in the wrong spot. It's interrupting the flow. Maybe move it to after the next dialogue bit?

I'm not sure what he lied about, but overall I think its intriguing. I'd keep reading.

patlaff said...

Nice, easy flow, intriguing hook. I really liked: "I had made it possible for others to bomb hell out of folks." By not saying "bomb THE hell out of folk," it instantly gave it an Old Fart's voice.

And Nathan, excellent idea to go with a random number generator.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I must disagree with Josin on the preachiness question.

I once asked my father, a veteran, if he ever killed anyone. His answer: Kill or be killed. I was 6.

The conversation and internal monologue of Old Farts isn't preachy to me. It's matter-of-fact, the kind of conversation two old war veterans might have.

I'm not clear, however, on who is admitting to lying at the end of the passage, or what the other speaker thinks he was. One or the other might be intentional, or straightened out on word #251.

Very interesting start. I would read on.

Karen Schwabach said...

Love the first line.

I'd tend to stay away from anything like a long description of the characters (or indeed *any* description of the characters) on the first page, where your real goal is to hook the reader. They can fill that stuff in themselves, or you can, later, if it's important.

The last two sentences, too, have major hook. I'd definitely turn the page.

Anonymous said...

Josin - sandwich feedback. Where's the positive?

Carol Riggs said...

Enjoyed the passage; I see conflict starting here. I liked the bit about Native American versus Indian. :) For constructive comments, I'd just ditto a few of what others have said about minor wording details (the contemplation line, the thought line, etc.) I did, however, initially think the "bomb hell" line was a typo--it kinda jarred me and I had to read it twice.

Nathan--as far as any of these types of entries, are we limited to one entry? Just curious if we could enter more, since I saw two entries from one person in the first-page forum. Thanks--

Nathan Bransford said...

carol-

One per human. If you could please send me a message in the Forums if you see multiple entries from the same person I'd appreciate it.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Anon -

???

I said it was close, just quite there yet. That IS a positive.

I always tone my crits down on these.

The Screaming Guppy said...

I pretty much ditto what has been said. Nice voice, loved the ethnicity correction.

This line read a little clumsy to me, can't fully figure out why: "I thought about that one for a while as I contemplated my companion who was staring out across the valley." For the second line of a novel with such a great voice, I want something punchier.

I also agree that you can trim out "thought to myself." Things that that would help my overall feeling that the IM segments between dialogue might be able to be a little shorter - to keep things moving on the first page, if for no other reason. But then again, it seems to work as is, so...maybe not! :)

Nice work.

G.C. said...

liked it.
great title.
good set up.
hooked me.
made me wan to read more.
keep writing, you seem to have a great ability for it.
curious to see Nathan's critique.
good job Chuck H.!!

Rick Daley said...

I like the voice, and the wit.

Count me as another who mistook the speaker as the narrator, though. I bet you can craft a quick fix for that, though, if you agree that it's necessary.

WORD VERIFICATION: piremmud. The results of the dirt and water practice sessions the ancient Egyptians held before they switched to stone masonry.

Erin Cabatingan said...

I think you have an interesting idea. The opening sentence is good and eye-catching.

One problem I have, is the with the description of the two guys on the porch. If someone asked me if I had killed someone, I don't think I'd be thinking about their appearance. It feels too convenient for me. You want to describe what the guy looks like, so you have your main character think it. But it doesn't seem like he would be thinking those thoughts right after being asked that question.

You could sneak in some description here. If this guy were to notice anything about his companion's appearance, I'd imagine that it would be in order to try and figure out what he was thinking, why he was asking the question, what his intent behind it was, etc. So mention things about his appearance that would give clues to that. Example: I studied his expression, searching for clues to his thoughts. His eyes, wrinkled with time, were also wrinkled in thought. (Not the best example, but I hope you understand what I'm trying to say.)

I think it might be better to just get rid of/move the description paragraph and come straight to the paragraph that says "It was a simple question but not so easy to answer." Either that, or maybe in the first paragraph, say something along the lines about how it's an uncomfortable question and he was avoiding thinking about it, or something like that. It just doesn't seem like a natural flow of events that someone would ask him "have you ever killed anybody" and then he would immediately think about what they looked like.

I do like where you're going with this. And it cut off at a nice place. "I lied."
Powerful words.

Erin Cabatingan said...

Okay, one more thing I'd like to say.

Although I'm not sure about the description, like I mentioned in the post before, I do like the way that this is paced. With the question, and then he thinks about it, and then pressing for an answer, and then thinking about it again, and then lying. It gives it a sense of just how hard a question this is for him. And I don't think you want to loose that as you edit it. That was done very well.

Emily White said...

I really liked the opening line. I think it's a great way to grab readers. However, the paragraph of description after it didn't fit. Would your character really be thinking about what the other guy looks like after being asked that question? I doubt it. He would probably be wondering what brought the question on. After all, it's not one of those things everyone is asked.

As far as the whole "I lied" bit goes, I didn't have a problem with it, but that's just me.

I think this is a nice start and I'd probably turn the page.

Jansen Schmidt said...

I liked it. I agree with Jaycee and Rick Daley about who was addressing whom and I agree that the "contemplation had gone on too long" was a little awkward.

Nice job. I'd like to read more.

r louis scott said...

I would read more.

I think it's a little difficult to give much critique on this many words because we are still in the process of establishing the characters, setting, etc. With another 500 words or so I might have something more to add but with what was posted I would certainly turn the page.

Nicole L Rivera said...

“Have you ever killed anyone?” (I love this opening line. Instantly grabs me.)

I thought about that one for a while as I contemplated my companion who was staring out across the valley.(Cut I thought...valley. This first line slows your pacing. You don't want to do that at the opening of your story.) Joe was about my age—somewhere in the neighborhood of sixty—compact, wiry with a full head of gray hair speckled here and there with dark spots. I thought to myself that, with his dark complexion and that (What kind of nose? Large, long, wide? Give a descriptive word here). nose, he must have had some Indian ancestry. Excuse me, Native American. Evidently my contemplation had gone on too long. (Cut: Evidently...long.)

“Well, have you?” (put a tag here so we know it is Joe speaking again and that the main character has been thinking too long.)

It was a simple question but not so easy to answer. I had been involved, peripherally at least, in a war. I had worn the uniform and, technically, I had been in a war zone. (Reword previous sentence to get rid of some "had". i.e. I wore the uniform and trudged through a war zone once or twice.) However, I hadn’t(cut: hadn't; insert: never) carried a weapon or shot at people (reverse: shot at people or even carried a weapon). But I had (delete: had) made it possible for others to bomb hell (I would delete: hell, but that is personal preference) out of folks on the ground and shoot down folks in the air. Then there was that gig as a company man after the war. Had I ever killed anyone? I lied.(Delete: I lied.)

“No.” (Insert: I lied.)

Joe turned to stare at me for a moment then directed his attention back to the million dollar view from my front porch. (Good showing, not telling. I get that the main character must have some money?)

“Me neither.”

We sat for a while in silence. I was trying to decide (Delete: was trying to decide; Insert: contemplated) whether or not I should call him a liar. God only knows what he was thinking. I finally made up my mind to confront him. (Delete: I finally... him.)

“I always thought that you were . . .”

“I lied.”

I like the beginning of the story. I'm intrigued to find out what's going on here. There is mystery to this character. I've made some notes above on ways I would reword it, but I'm also thinking if you could get rid of some of the thoughts and keep the dialogue flowing quicker it might grab the reader even more. You can move some of the background information further into the story. Overall I'm interested and that is the most important thing. Great job :)

Rollie Raleigh said...

My observation is that you step on your shock-open. After the opening line, it is too static. Show some physical action or reaction rather than all internal dialogue. A description is not what one would contemplate after such a stunning question. Rearrange or eliminate the description and eliminate the second question – it seems forced and takes some of the shock from the pertinent question. I think Ms. McQuein hit on most of the salient points.


One possible edit -


“Have you ever killed anyone?”

It was a simple question but not so easy to answer. I had been involved, peripherally at least, in a war. I had worn the uniform and, technically, I had been in a war zone. However, I hadn’t carried a weapon or shot at people. But I had made it possible for others to bomb hell out of folks on the ground and shoot down folks in the air. Then there was that gig as a company man after the war. "No," I lied.

Joe turned to stare at me. He looked to be near my sixty years, but compact, wiry with a full head of gray hair speckled with dark spots. That dark complexion and nose spoke of Indian ancestry – Native American if I were younger or more PC.

“Me neither.” He redirected his attention back to the million dollar view from my front porch.

God only knows what he was thinking. I tried to decide whether or not to call him a liar.
“I always thought that you were . . .”

“I lied,” interrupted Joe without amending his focus.

D. G. Hudson said...

If I imagine someone like Hunter S. Thompson sitting on his porch talking to one of his cronies, this scene takes on another dimension. And if you give one of the men a gun for them to be cleaning, the tension ramps up.

But is that what the author wants? Only Chuck knows what direction the story is going.

There's lot of suggestions in the commments, so consider them all, Chuck, but remain true to what you want to say. After all, it's your story.

Had to add this after reading all the comments.

Chuck H. said...

It's 11:21 PM, June 15th, here in Alabama. AS I noted in the thread for today, I was on a speeding motorcycle when my dream of a page critique came true and I missed it. As an aside, I wrecked the bike in Decatur at 2:30 this AM, banging myself and it up but nothing serious or permanent.

First I would like to say to anyone who may come back here to see if I made an appearance, thank you for all your kind comments and constructive criticism. I appreciate it all. I will be going over this for quite some time. You have given me a lot to think about.

In case anyone is still interested, this book is about two guys who each suspect (correcty, as it turns out) that the other is a also a retired spy. I won't go into a lot of detail but the story involves possible assinations, old pickup trucks, a couple of Rottweilers and . . . well a whole lot of other stuff. So far I have about 200 pages and I'm starting to see light at the end of the tunnel. Thanks again for all your comments and for keeping it professional as always.

WV: I kid you not - favor. You have all done me a tremendous one.

Mesmerix said...

Chuck - sounds like a premise I'd be interested in reading. If you're in need of a beta reader when the time comes, look me up.

February Grace said...

I know I am so late to this- but since you were a little late too Chuck I hope you won't mind me chiming in still. First of all, sorry to hear about you and the bike- hope you're all better soon.

Okay, here we go. I love your style. Drew me right in, kept me scrolling down wishing there was more at the end.

Regarding the large paragraph after the question that hooks you- I think you might have stopped after "with dark spots" or after "ancestry". For some reason, when I read "excuse me Native American" I read it as "Excuse me, Native American" and it sounded like an insult (putting me in mind of Steve Martin)but maybe I haven't had enough caffeine today.

I love the premise- I love the first page- the only thing I didn't love, honestly? The title. This might be totally silly but it put me off- if I saw a book with that title in the store that alone would keep me from picking it up to see what it was about and that's a shame because this is fine writing and I would be interested in reading a book like this even though it's outside genres I usually read. Your voice comes through to me clearly in this- and I really enjoyed it. To me, it's excellent stuff.

Anyway, my 2 cents. Thanks for putting it out there so we could read it, Chuck. Get better soon.

Ishta Mercurio said...

Ooooh... I LIKED this! Your voice is very strong, and fantastic; I love the beginning with two old guys sitting on a porch contemplating life and death (I live on a "porch street", and this totally reflects the kind of thing that I see in some of my neighbors all the time); and I love the way you set it up with just a few details, and left me wondering about the "million dollar view" and the "gig as a company man after the war". Fantastic stuff; I want to keep reading.

I agree with Erin Cabatingan about the second paragraph. For the narrator to be asked a question like "Have you ever killed anyone", and then start thinking about his companion's appearance without reference to the question he's supposed to be thinking about, feels out-of-place. Think about how you can condense it, or move it and replace it with musings on his companion in reference to the question, or somehow make it seem more in line with the set-up you've got.

Try cutting "I thought to myself that" from the second paragraph; I think it works better without it.

I like your second large descriptive paragraph; it really gives a sense of the narrator as a person, to hear his thoughts. I like "I lied" at the end of the paragraph, rather than after "No." It gives us the moment in which he makes the decision to lie, in the way that a camera would pick up the twitch of an eyebrow or the raising of the corner of his mouth in the instant before the character speaks, to let us know that a decision has been made before we hear the words.

I also love that they are both lying to each other. I really, really want to see where this goes. (This weekly page-critique exercise is becoming a kind of slow torture for me.)

I could look for more to say here, but I'd be nitpicking, and it wouldn't be the truth, anyway. Great stuff. Thanks for the read!

Chuck H. said...

@Ishta

Thanks for the comments. You, along with so many others have given me a lot to think about. I am most appreciative. Hopefully, someday I'll get this published and then you can find out what happens.

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