Nathan Bransford, Author


Monday, July 26, 2010

Page Critique Monday: My Critique

Thanks again to darylsedore for bravely offering the page. I think this is an interesting high concept beginning, and the page is able to build a suspenseful tone, which I enjoyed. The "bring hammer" part of the premonition was a great touch, and I really want to know why she's under that bridge.

My concerns with this page have to do with the opening lines and with the overall polish.

I'm honestly not quite sure whether the opening rhetorical questions are meant to be taglines or whether they're intended to be the first lines of the manuscript. As someone who doesn't care for queries beginning with rhetorical questions, I'm afraid I'm not usually a fan of them kicking off novels either. I would suggest cutting the two lines and letting the mystery build on its own - "Sarah Roberts looked at her watch again" is a perfectly fine opening line.

And in terms of overall polish, I'm afraid I just didn't feel that the writing was smooth, and I was tripped up by some awkward phrasing and confusing descriptions, which are below in the redline. Lack of precision was the main culprit, and there were places where I thought a better word choice could have been more effective.

With more polish I think the reader will be more engaged as the plot unfolds.

REDLINE

Title: The Precog
Genre: Thriller
Word Count: 250


Would someone die today? Would she be able to save whomever it is she’s supposed to save? Confused by this opening
Sarah Roberts looked at her watch again.

10:15am.

Three minutes until the premonition came true.

This was the fifth one she chose to act on. She’d had seven in the last six months. The first two were neglected Passive voice. She didn’t know was happening then a tad awkward, and a word missing - it took me a little while to realize "then" meant when she was first receiving the premonitions. But now, she followed her notebook details "notebook details" the right word choice? exactly as they were written. Sarah didn’t question the cryptic words. Fear played a role, but confidence won didn't quite understand this - fear played a role in what and confidence won what? If she doesn't question the words, what does she fear?.

She reached back and found a few stray hairs above the nape of her neck. She massaged them until they were firmly in the grip of her fingers "massaged" the right word choice? do we need this sentence? . Then she tugged them out. She closed her eyes and leaned back on the dirty cement. The slight pain that oozed over her skin soothed her does pain "ooze"?, calming the nerves.

Vehicles crossing the bridge above came to her didn't quite understand "came to her". She made a mental note that the next time she had to hover under a bridge waiting for whatever was supposed to happen she would bring a pillow to sit on. The hard cement ground she inhabited angled toward a small river at forty-five degrees. It was hard cement. The grass on either side looked more comfortable, but the message was specific. If there was anything Sarah knew, it was to follow the messages with absolute precision.

Thinking of the message, she recited it in her head; Sit directly in the middle, under the St. Elizabeth Bridge. At 10:18am. Bring hammer great detail.






36 comments:

Daryl Sedore said...

Thank you Mr. Bransford. What you have done here has been a great help. Now, back to the keyboard...

Thank you again.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic critique, Nathan!

It makes this great piece shine with just a few master edits.

Once again, thank you, Daryl and thank you Nathan!

Reena Jacobs said...

Another commenter mentioned text-to-speech software. I find it extremely helpful with editing. I tend to overlook little mistakes, because I know what to expect or rather I know what I wanted to write even if it doesn't hit the paper.

Critique groups are nice also. There was the concern of submitting a work for critique but not receiving a response. Sometimes it's about choosing the right critique group. I joined a romance group that guarantees two critiques per submission (chapter). In turn, for every chapter the writer submits, he/she must also critique two other pieces of work. You scratch my back; I scratch yours.

Scribophile is another group I like but is non-genre specific. It uses a point system. Earn a specific amount of points and you can submit a piece of work. Your work stays on the queue until it receives 3 critiques. Since only so many pieces of work can be in the active queue at a time, works are critiqued so others can move up.

Katherine Hyde said...

I agree with your comments, Nathan. And I would add that the word "hover" is inappropriate--it literally means one is in the air, not on the ground. For a minute I thought this woman was REALLY extraordinary!

Kristin Laughtin said...

I agree that the need for more precise words is playing against what sounds like a very interesting story. I was particularly thrown by the "whomever she was supposed to save"s and the "whatever she was supposed to be doing"s. I understand that these people and actions are just revealed to her, and that the people might not be more than nameless faces, but the wording doesn't work. It sounds as if the author is trying to be too mysterious, pointing out "Look at what you don't know! Isn't it intriguing?" rather than letting the reader become curious on his/her own. I also think (warning: personal opinion here!) that all the "whom/whatevers" sound a bit juvenile for this type of work. Perhaps simplifying these down to something like "the person" instead of "whomever" in a few instances would help this.

swampfox said...

Ditto Katherine's point on the word "hover." Meant to say that the first time, but forgot.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Thought the critique was dead on, though I agree with the comments on "hover".

And thanks to Daryl for offering up his piece for critique, and for being so professional in his comments. A good attitude is half the battle. ("Knowing" is the other half - G.I.Joe never lies...)

Chuck H. said...

Aha, I knew that hammer was a great detail. I may not be up to Bransford standards yet, but I'm workin' on it.

Josin L. McQuein said...

I think your beginning would be stronger if you cut the two questions at the start (and maybe even the line about her checking her watch) and started with the time.

And, it's nitpicky, but I don't like the word "premonition", it sounds less concrete than the kind of vision of someone who's used to having their visions come true. It sounds weird to me, especially since you use it again so soon.

Mira said...

Completely agree with everything you said, Nathan. Your review is completely on target. As always. This is so generous of you.

Daryl, I like the hook of this piece alot. You definitely caught me with the 'show up, bring hammer.' Nice. I love the hair-pulling - does it show an underlying anxiety? - that's a really human touch.

But making the writing flow crisply - as Nathan suggested - would pick up the pace alittle, which I think is right for a thriller.

Good luck to you! Nathan, thank you!

Anonymous said...

I also thought she was hovering in the air.

jddeshaw said...

I really do like the hammer part as well. It makes me want to know what she's going to do with it. However, I'm a bit confused with 'premonition' and then the details written in the notebook. Each idea that I can think of which could explain this makes me interested in varying degrees. One explanation I can come up with is that these messages appear in her notebook themselves. The other is that she gets these visions and she writes down what she saw. Another one could be that she physically writes these events down when she experiences them, but this notebook has somehow traveled to the past (I'm thinking the Time Traveler's Wife here). I think if a different, maybe more specific word than 'premonition,' was used, it could really make the beginning stronger! But that's just me haha I like knowing things unless they're supposed to be a mystery...and it does not seem like this is entirely a secret to her. Or perhaps I'm getting the wrong impression -- would not be the first time.

Alice said...

I have read several comments on massaging the hairs on her neck. I got this immediately. It's hard to grasp a hair on your neck unless you "massage" it and then it kind of rolls into your fingers. Try it you'll see. Unless you are a hairy necked person. I seem to be the only one, so you'll have to change the word or strike it.

I do agree with striking the first two questions though. I would like to read more, I love stuff like this.

Anonymous said...

Hard cement?

Isn't cement always hard? It's not like hard or chewy candy. Cement pretty much implies it's hard.

ryan field said...

Another good excerpt.

And a great example of passive voice.

Jolene said...

Well, I'm hooked...

Ishta Mercurio said...

Nathan, you really hit the nail on the head with this one. (Har, har... Oh, dear.) Seriously, though, I agree completely with this critique.

And I love the last line. So, Daryl, are you ever going to tell us why she is under the bridge?

Anonymous said...

Have to comment on the passive voice red flag - I know strunk and white have ingrained in us that passive voice = evil and all that happy crap, so i get that 80% of the people who read this are going to scream that old mantra...


Anyway,

The first two were neglected. We all want to say 'She neglected the first two'. Or 'Sarah neglected the first two.' (I actually have more of a problem with the word neglected - I am not sure it is the best choice here but whatever...)

Passive voice is vilified for removing emphasis on the 'doer' most often. Who neglected the premonitions? is the big question. Sarah did, she did... yada yada yada. Ok great. But if the emphasis was on the premonitions, then maybe the passive voice there is doing what was intended. The sentence before that one starts with 'She'. The next one starts with 'she'. Anybody wondering at this point who is doing all of these things?

I didn't think so.

Is passive voice a great thing to use all the time? No. Is every single use of it cause for a heart attack? Hardly.

Like the 'never use adverbs' nonsense that people can't stop following like some religious cult, people (and I am not saying Nathan is, I am just using the opportunity to rant a bit!) are taking this to ridiculous levels.

Yes, 'crept' is a better word than 'walked slowly'. But you know what, sometime the girl in the corner just 'smiles sweetly'. Yes, I know its killing you to think so. I know your brain is screaming for mercy along with your eyes, but sometimes she really does. And you know what? Because using 25 more words to describe how her lips are curling and her eyes are sparkling just isn't worth all those extra words sometimes.

There. I said it. Berate me to your hearts' content.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

I agree with you in principle that being too strict about passive voice is inadvisable, but in this case I do think it reads a tad awkwardly in the passive voice. I think that's an insightful point about avoiding starting three sentences in a row with "she," and I also definitely agree that the word choice of "neglected" is problematic, but I just think there's a way around that sentence that would leave the paragraph stronger, and I think making it active helps:

I prefer...

"The first two she was able to ignore." or even just "The first two she ignored."

to

"The first two were neglected" or "The first two were ignored."

Anonymous said...

Pretty much the thought I had regarding ignore vs neglect.

Great minds think alike after all!!!

Or so I've been told....

:P

Daryl Sedore said...

Great thoughts Anon-; and thanks again for Mr. Bransford's comment after.

I'd like to say thank you to everyone who participated in this critique today. I have read all the comments and appreciate the feedback, which will help during the editing process.

Thank you again, and enjoy your evening.

Daryl Sedore

*He sits back in his office chair, rubs his chin and smiles sweetly at the newfound knowledge he is about to apply to his work in progress*

The Frisky Virgin said...

Gotta say, that last line (bring hammer) sucked me in--I wanted to read more. Thank you Nathan for another fantastic critique.

Anonymous said...

The hammer may be a good detail, but I believe it would be much more effective and honest to show that the character has a hammer in her hand or at least has one with her. The mystery is why she is under the bridge with this particular tool. By not mentioning the hammer earlier, you have disconnected the character from what seems to be the most important object in the scene. Thanks for the submission.

Nishant said...

That was a fantastic critique Mr. Nathan! And yes, the comments above (especially by 1 anon) were really insightful.

Can't stop coming back to this blog for so much of free advice :)

Claire Merle said...

Hi, I've just found and signed myself up to your blog and I am totally impressed that you take the time to help people with critiques like this. Your enthusiasm will definitely keep me reading! Thanks

Mary E. Ulrich said...

Nathan, thanks for a peek into how an editor's brain works. Very helpful.

rachelcapps said...

I think Nathan and the other commenters have steered you in the right direction. So, I'd like to say - great hook! I'm intrigued and want to know more :)

jjdebenedictis said...

I think the words Three minutes until the premonition came true would make a rockin' first line. If you're editing anyway, maybe you could start the piece there?

Henya said...

I like the hook. Nathan is right, you need to polish this great story.

S.D. said...

Wasn't terribly interested until the "Bring Hammer" part. Now I really want to know why she needs one.

Derrick said...

Hi Nathan, I disagree with what you're saying here about the first couple sentences. The first two sentences are not rhetorical questions (at least not the way I read them). Perhaps, they'd do better in italics as the MC's thoughts.

Personally, I really hate questions in the third person, but I see it done frequently in fiction, so it must be accepted by audiences in general. For me, questions in the third person make it seem like the narrator comes out of the sky and is now apart of the action (if that makes sense). Basically, it draws me out. So I don't disagree that the first two sentences are jarring in that way, but I've seen a lot of this sort of thing in classics and current fiction.

Actually, I'd be interested to hear what you have to say about questions (not rhetorical--you already have written enough about that!) in the third person narrative.

J. T. Shea said...

Great critique, Nathan. Particularly your half dozen rhetorical questions.

(Sorry! The Devil made me do it.)

Anonymous said...

This whole idea is taken from "Minority Report."

Daryl Sedore said...

Anon-

This novel is about a kidnapping ring that masquerades as a group of psychics in a traveling psychic fair. They kidnap teenage girls, collect the ransom and then the psychic finds the girl (he knows where she is because he's in on it) and looks like a hero.

The problem: They have been thwarted twice by a strange girl who is wearing a bandanna. She seems to show up at the precise time. Meet my Automatic Writer. She receives messages through her pen from the Other Side and follows them exactly, such as you start to see in the beginning of the scene on this site. At the scene of the third kidnapping she tries to stop, they snatch her instead and the action starts.

This has nothing to do with Minority Report. I've never watched that movie. I looked it up on IMDB and found out about the Precogs, so a title change is in order. Because of this critique, my manuscript will have a better chance. The original title was False Prophets, but I changed it because Faye Kellerman wrote a book with that title. Then it was Premonitions, but changed that because of the Sandra Bullock movie. And now The Precog is gone...

Thank you Nathan, I appreciate the critique.

Daryl

Wild Orchids for Trotsky said...

This page looks like the beginning of an interesting story. On a side note, could we have a definition of the term "high-concept"? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't the ending, starting with, "Sit directly...etc" make a great beginning? You'd have the reader right away.

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