Nathan Bransford, Author


Monday, July 12, 2010

Page Critique Monday: My Critique

Over the course of these various page critiques I have been occasionally accused of over-tinkering and impossible-to-please, and so it pleases me to have an entrant where I don't have too many suggestions!

I think this page is in strong shape, and I like this especially: it takes its time and lets the setting unfold. It doesn't try to be overly shocking or clever or try to pull the rug out from under us. It's just a well-written, confident opening.

And that is perfectly fine.

Now, I wouldn't be myself if I didn't have SOME suggestions, which are below. Overall I thought there might be a bit more room for giving more of a hint of Cass' personality and mindset (I'm not quite sure why she's so jumpy), and there were some sentences I'd rejigger to improve the flow. I also think there's room to give the man a bit more personality by giving a sense of why he gruffly sneaks up on her with "This is Private Property" but then doesn't seem to care that she's there.

But overall I think this page is in a good place. Well done.



TITLE: Something in the End
GENRE: Women's Fiction
248 words

Cass walked closer to the rocky Newfoundland shoreline to take more photos. Everything around her was worth shooting. Even the rusted boats had a certain rough charm; every mark on their hulls told stories in some language Cass couldn’t understand I like this a lot and think it gives nice insight into her personality, but I find the semi-colon a little awkward and wonder if it would work better broken up into two sentences.

She walked out onto a deserted pier and continued snapping photos No need to mention taking photos twice in the same paragraph. Gulls circled overhead as fishermen started unloading lobster and crab from crates stored on their decks or below. Cass was thankful for her telephoto lens, allowing her to take photos from a safe distance. She wasn’t sure if the locals would see her presence there as an imposition. Maybe more of a hint of personality or explanation here? Without more context it's tough to know why she's so nervous. Is she just nervous being a tourist?

“This is private property.”

The gruff voice behind her caused Cass to jump "caused Cass to jump" feels a little awkward. Maybe just "made Cass jump?" or "Cass jumped when she heard the gruff voice behind her?". She turned and saw a man strolling down the pier toward her. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know,” she called back, struggling to keep her voice even. As he neared she could see he wasn’t very old, maybe ten years older than she was, with dark hair and a few days worth of beard some other description here (I suggest moving the beard description below).

“No harm. Just letting you know.”

“I’ll go,” she said as he came closer. He was tall, broad-shouldered, with a square jaw, visible despite his short beard through a few days worth of beard (no need to mention the beard twice).

“Stay and keep shooting if you’d like. Makes no difference to me. If he doesn't care why did he gruffly say it's private property? Should there be a hint of softening when he sees he made her nervous? It could give more of a sense of his personality, even if he's a minor character” He walked past her and climbed down a short ladder to a boat below. Cass watched, intrigued already apparent. She had the urge to take his picture but wasn’t sure if he’d mind. Something she couldn’t quite put her finger on stopped her from asking.






43 comments:

swampfox said...

I agree with the suggested improvements. It's like I've said many times on my own blog: As well-written as a page may be, it can almost always be written better. That's why we have agents...and editors.

The Decreed said...

"to take more photos.... worth shooting." Pretty much seals that opening, I think. We get to see Cass and the world at the same time.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

I very much liked this opening, and agree with the crit. The only thing I'd add is that I'm not too keen on trying to hook the reader with vagueness, with deliberately holding back why the man is instriguing and why she doesn't ask. Now, this might be answered in the next 50 words, so maybe this is worth ignoring. But I find a deliberate attempt at vague mystery less engaging than something specific and leading. In other words, an engaging detail rather than an absence.

Oh, yes, and one other thing: I'm not keen on describing age (and thus appearance) in a comparison, when we don't know the other half of the comparison. "Not too old" is rather vague, and "maybe ten years older than she was", while not vague, doesn't help since we don't know anything about the narrator. Ten years older than what? I noted in the comments after the first post a couple people were calling him an "old man" -- which is partly quick reading, but partly the lack of precision in describing someone this way. The reader fastens on the word "old" because it's the only specific element (even if it was intended as "not old"). What's "not old"? 20s? 30s? 40s? 50s? That concept will probably change drastically with the reader. I think you need to show his age clearly, or show her age first, which would allow the comparison to work.

Aside from that, I thought the piece really well-handled. Smooth, confident, not overly rushed, and with a nice use of language.

Jaimie said...

I like when stories start slower like this as long as something interesting happens before the end of the first chapter. I hate having to work so hard right at the beginning.

Action openings are so overdone they just can't excite me anymore.

Ishta Mercurio said...

I think a nice slow start suits this piece well, and this is well-done. I agree with Ink's comments about wanting more specificity in some places, but otherwise I thought this was well done.

I am always interested in seeing Nathan's critique - in this case, I agreed with some points and not with others, and it's so valuable for me to see viewpoints that are different from my own.

Mira said...

Over-tinkering and impossible to please? Are you kidding?! No. Your critiques are spot on and, for my money, rather gentle. There is a huge difference between a written page and a PUBLISHABLE page.

As always, your suggestions here are great, Nathan. I especially like your suggestion that Cameron hint a little more about Cass' personality.

I may possibly disagree with one small point though. Mentioning the beard stubble twice may work in romance. The reader is being introduced to the probably love interest, and beard stubble on a gruff, hard-to-read, tall, dark, broad-shouldered, square-jawed man will raise eyebrows.

I've read my share of romance, and I felt like settling in for a good read.

Nice job, Cameron.

Kimberly Kincaid said...

This opening is very nice- I loved the line about the boats speaking a language she couldn't understand.

It's amazing to me how the tiny edits, like moving a semi-colon or changing the order of a few words, makes so much difference in the flow of a piece. How lovely that you're in the position of going from strong to great with some tinkering- well done!

Some Screaming Fangirl said...

They're very spot-on; you'd make a good editor if you weren't a literary agent and writer, actually.

I agree with the opening though. Very insightful.

Maya said...

Nathan-- Although I have sometimes commented that I wasn't bothered by lines that you have red-lined, I didn't mean to accuse you of over-tinkering. On the contrary, the purpose of the exercise is to find out what goes on in an agent's head when you read pages. After all, the rest of us aren't coming at it with the point of view of searching for a diamond in the slushpile. We are likely to be more kind to our peers.

However, I was pleasantly surprised to hear you say this was a strong page. I thought so too. I did wonder why the MC is so jumpy, but I'm happy to wait more pages to find out--as long as the author is aware that this is not normal behavior, and should be explained soon.

Kate said...

Again, you point right to the things I "can't put my finger on."

I even think this page is pretty darn good the way it is because it makes me want to read more. Nathan's critiques will make it that much stronger.

I really love that I can see the coastal setting even with minimal description. I think the setting adds to the slower pace of the opening. But it's full of action in that an intriguing event happens right away. Awesome!

tessla said...

I agreed with the suggestions that were made. I believe if our work is perfect then we are not human. I believe we are writers not editors. It is art. Drawn from our own conclusions of our thoughts.

Sheila Cull said...

The redundancy for example, the word beard, makes it appear unprofessional (but otherwise she's a great writier and the snake in me is jealous, go figure). If she forwarded you a sample chapter, would you ask to see the mass, despite a mistake like that??

Anonymous said...

I think this piece shows promise and is very well written, however I have a few quibbles. The author relies a little too much, methinks, on the passive voice. Also, Newfoundland! Newfoundland might as well be Mars as far as I'm concerned. Such a great, unusual and unlikely setting could be exploited a little more. Even in the first paragraphs. (Noted: The Shipping News.) I'd LOVE more visual description. I agree with NB on the "Caused to jump" -- why not -- "She jumped." Overall, very well done, promising, compress, condense, look for active verbs.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I agree with your improvements and didn't think this piece needed too much work. The only thing (for me) is that it felt a little *too* in media res. I normally love starting in the middle of the scene, but I felt I needed a little more introduction here. I felt like I was reading an excerpt rather than the beginning of the story. Of course, I might feel differently if I read the next 100 words to get more of a sense of the story, and this critique is obviously something personal and therefore subjective. Overall a good job!

Cheryl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cheryl said...

I agree with everything that was said but would like to add that you don't need to say her name so much. She's the only character for the most part so we know who you are talking about.

I'm also glad to see that it's a slow start and getting good comments! Mine is also a slow start and I get flack for it because it's not "exciting" enough. Great to see that you don't mind the slow start, Nathan!

D.G. Hudson said...

I liked the pace of this page. The nervousness could be attributed to many factors. We need to know if this is a character trait or is it brought on by circumstance?

A little more explanation of the woman's reasons for being nervous (e.g., foreign country? only men around & she's by herself?) would help the reader step into the story.

Nice change of pace in genre, too.

spiziks said...

I would actually suggest changing the title. I read "Something in the End" and thought it was a . . . er, euphemism for certain bedroom acts.

Jim MacKrell said...

I have been told that a dentist can look in a perfect mouth and suggest changes. Critiquing a page or two has always gotten me in trouble in the past. After all, the King James Version of the Bible has too many thee's and thou's..

Anonymous said...

I love your critique. I caught the photos twice in that paragraph too.
Great writing. I liked it so very much. I did think it was a give away that he was near her age and handsome...

Simon Hay Soul Healer said...

Nathan, I'm loving this. Your critique and all the comments are a great teaching tool. Thanks, Simon.

mfreivald said...

About the only thing I can add that hasn't been said is that you might benefit by using the camera a little more. You could try actively zooming in on the lobster, and/or framing the boat with space before the prow to center the enigmatic rust marks (or something demonstrating a more artistic eye than my own). It could give it a richer commentary on the observations and might add some good movement.

I say "could" and "might" because it could also clutter it up or make the observation too mechanical, but it might be a healthy thing to try.

ryan field said...

I really liked this one...the writing and the edits.

Anonymous said...

Strong beginning that isn't trying too hard. It makes me want to read on. NB's notes, as always, were excellent. Thank you for these, there is always something to learn no matter how far along you are.

I also thought this poster's suggestion was great, if the writer relates to it.

" mfreivald said...
About the only thing I can add that hasn't been said is that you might benefit by using the camera a little more. You could try actively zooming in on the lobster, and/or framing the boat with space before the prow to center the enigmatic rust marks (or something demonstrating a more artistic eye than my own). It could give it a richer commentary on the observations and might add some good movement."

Anonymous said...

And agree that author needs a better title. One with a visual attached to it, so it's memorable, and that relates to the core of your story.

rachelcapps said...

I really enjoyed this opening before Nathan's comments, but with a few tweaks the hook will be deeper. Good work Cameron!

wordsareforwriting said...

Great and constructive feedback here. Well done Nathan and the writer.

Marc said...

I don't read this genre usually but as soon as I saw Newfoundland mentioned I had to read on. I am from Newfoundland so could visualize the scene easily. Great work!

Damyanti said...

That page was good. And it has become stronger with his comments. This whole critique thing is very very educational, thanks Nathan!

Backfence said...

Nathan - Good critique! I've been browsing a few of these 1st page submissions and this is one that stood out for me. I too was struck by the inconsistency of the man's gruffness when pointing out Cass was on "private property," only to shrug it off just a few paragraphs later as of no concern to him.

Still, I liked the writer's style ... and I especially liked the fact she trusted the reader's intelligence enough to ease into her story without heads exploding or a 20-car pile-up in the first few paragraphs -- to carry our interest. I, for one, enjoyed this excerpt and would definitely continue to read (if only I could).

Bernard S. Jansen said...

I agree with swampfox. Only perfectionists realise that a piece can never be perfect.

Anonymous said...

I really like this piece. I like the straightforward way in which the author unfolds the opening. It's well-written and only need tweaking here and there. Nathan's suggestions were spot-on.

MBW aka Olleymae said...

I love your critique, Nathan! Repeated words and description always throw me out of a story.

This is a nicely straightforward piece. I wish I could read more! :)

Cameron Chapman said...

Thanks so much for the critique! It's a huge motivator to dive into the edits for this one, which I've been dragging my feet on. Thanks to everyone who commented and left additional suggestions, too.

Anonymous said...

I too like this opening. I sense that the author is going to tell me what I need to know through bits and hints, rather than dump it all at once.

I love it when a writer brings me a manuscript in such a near-final state. "Crisping up" (as I call the process of removing extraneous words and phrases) is my favorite type of editing and even the stylistically lush writer can benefit from a little paring here and there.

rose

Carol said...

Thank you for this. Refreshing to read a simple, straightforward -- even with its slight vagueness -- opening. I guess I'm agreeing with Jaimie, who said, "Action openings are so overdone they just can't excite me anymore." Beyond not exciting, they sometimes strike me, as a reader, as being more than I want to cope with.

MelissaPEA said...

Good start. I agree with earlier comments about the title and the possible connotation. Try to avoid the redundancy of "walked" in the first and second paragraphs. She's supposed to be nervous and tentative, so walking onto a deserted pier might not even be the right word choice. A verb that shows her hesitation would be better. "Strolling" sounds too leisurely for a gruff guy who is chastising her. I agree that his initial statement about private property was inconsistent with "makes no difference to me." It felt like a bait and switch on his character, too soon. The description of the guy really slowed down the page for me. I didn't think the descriptions were woven in seamlessly and the descriptions weren't really original or memorable. "Dark hair," "tall, broad shoulders with a square jaw." If there has to be a description on the first page, weave it in by having the character do something - he can brush his dark hair back. Or just have a more unusual feature noted, like a scar or a beard that's unevenly shaved. Good work, though, and it's definitely intriguing!

J. T. Shea said...

Backfence, I've never seen a first page that could not benefit from a twenty car pileup and some exploding heads.

Caleb said...

Tinker on Nathan! Remain impossible to please. You inspire and improve the inspiring novelists that read your blog.

Jenny Keller Ford said...

I liked the opening and agree with the changes. I also liked the fact that it didn't open with wham bam action. There is just enough mystery to get the reader engaged to read more. My story also starts off a little slower - some action but not overly done. I think in many cases time needs to be made to set up the characters - flush them out, get to know them, before the action starts. I was pleased to see there are others who agree.

Great job, Nathan, and congrats to the writer who was reviewed for an excellent assessment. If only Nathan had the time to review all of our works. *sigh*

LindaBudz said...

Love this. One of my favorite things about it is that we get a strong sense of the narrator's perspective -- she's looking down at the boats -- and I feel like I'm right there with her. Really helps me get into her head in a way that a most setting descriptions don't achieve. Masterful, really.

Shane Arthur said...

This is a great exercise for both writer and editor. Here are my humble suggestions.

```````````````````````````````
Cass walked closer to the rocky Newfoundland shoreline to (take) more photos.(I'd go with "snap" here to not confuse her action with "grabbing" photos.)

every mark on their hulls told stories in some language Cass couldn’t understand (I'd go with "told stories in an unfamiliar language")

She walked (((out))) onto a deserted pier

Gulls circled overhead as fishermen (((started))) unloading lobster and crab from crates stored (((on their decks or below)))(below and on deck).

Cass was thankful for her telephoto lens, allowing (((her to take))) photos from a safe distance.

She wasn’t sure if (((the locals would see her presence there as an imposition)))(her presense imposed on the locals).

“I’ll go,” she said as he (((came closer)))(advanced or approached).

He was tall, broad-shouldered, with (((a))) square jaw,

She (((had the urge to take)))(wanted) his picture but wasn’t sure if he’d mind



```````````````````````````````

Write on,
Shane

Shane Arthur said...

Oops. I Misspelled presen"c"e.

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