Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, July 12, 2010

Page Critique Monday

Congrats to Spain and Octopus Paul for their respective victories in the World Cup! Spain's passing was impressive, but let's face it, Octopus Paul is a living legend.

Time for Monday's page critique! Refresher on how this works:

- If you're interested in submitting a page for a future critique, enter it in this thread in the Forums.
- I use a random number generator to select the winning critique.
- Please please please remember the sandwich rule when offering your thoughts: positive, very very constructive thoughts, positive. I mean it. Err on the side of being nice.

As of this posting there were 252 posts in the thread, and the number that the good machine at gave me was..........

7! Congrats to Cameron Chapman, whose page is below.

I'll be back in a bit with my critique.

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.

She walked out onto a deserted pier and continued snapping photos. 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.

“This is private property.”

The gruff voice behind her caused Cass to jump. 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.

“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.

“Stay and keep shooting if you’d like. Makes no difference to me.” He walked past her and climbed down a short ladder to a boat below. Cass watched, intrigued. 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.


hannah said...

Really like this. You could take out a few of the cliches: ("couldn't put her finger on,") and a bit of the over-explaining (you don't need to tell us she's intrigued; we know because she's watching) but I think this is really strong, and it reads like the first page of a published book.

Chuck H. said...

Although I think this is well written, it sounds generic to me. Haven't I been here before? Something is needed to set it apart, make me want to continue instead of saying, "Oh, another one of those." Wouldn't take much, some kind of unique detail or other. Thanks for submitting it for our consideration. Keep on keepin' on.

Mira said...

Oooo, romance, how fun. I like to think awhile before critiquing details, but this felt comfortable and familiar - which is for the best with a romance novel.

Jess said...

I really enjoyed this. I'm a photographer, so I could easily relate to Cass's caution as she tried to take pictures without being seen as an imposition. The imagery was great, and I'm curious to know more about the man she talks to.

There was only one thing that really stood out to me besides those that have already been mentioned, and that was the line where she struggles to keep her voice even. Maybe the reason is explained later, but I wondered why she would get emotional enough to need to keep her voice even in this situation.

Overall, though, this is great! I would definitely keep reading. Thanks for sharing!

Jenn Marie said...

I think this is really nice - I would definitely keep reading. The tone sets up the protagonist's character nicely. I got a sense of someone slightly removed from others, thoughtful but a bit lost.

Couple of copy/grammar thingies:
"continued TO snap photos"
Maybe "square jaw visible BENEATH a short beard"? Despite doesn't seem quite right - not a clear contrast of ideas.
I agree that you don't need "intrigued." Maybe "As Cass watched him, she felt the urge to take his picture..."
"Something she couldn't quite put her finger on..." Maybe I'm being silly here, but I'd find another expression for this, since you've just been dealing with photography. My first image upon reading that phrase was her putting her finger on the picture-taker button. Whatever it's called.

Good work!

Marilyn Peake said...

I like the mood and setting here. If the wording was less passive, more active, it would draw the reader in even more. For example, in the first paragraph, “Everything around her was worth shooting.” is a passive sentence. Also, the sentence, “She turned and saw a man strolling down the pier toward her.” isn’t very active.

Adding description that engages more of the senses could make your setting even more intriguing, e.g. the sound of the gulls or water lapping up against the boats, smell of the water, etc. Rather than saying that “Everything around her was worth shooting.”, you could describe more of the setting that might be breathtaking, and trust the reader to understand the allure of photographing there.

Good luck with this! I love the setting and the introduction to your characters.

Beth said...

I'd say "rusty" boats instead of "rusted."

The sentence "every mark on their hulls told stories in some language Cass couldn’t understand" is slightly awkward, but I am not sure how to fix it.

I'm interested to see what happens afterward.

reader said...

Thanks for sharing this! I like the MC name and the fact that it opens with her on the shorline (I love anything that takes place near water).

It reads slow for me, and some lines simply don't need to be there.


"...She wasn’t sure if the locals would see her presence there as an imposition.

“This is private property.”...

I'd cut the "she wasn't sure if" line completely. If she's truly caught up in her photo taking I doubt stop to think if locals might be upset. Why would they? They're busy themselves. Plus she's using a telephoto lens.

It's not necessarily engaging -- the old man chastising her for taking photos and then saying he doesn't care. If he doesn't care, why'd he bring it up?

Also, it seems the MC is so timid that I'm not sure I'd want to keep reading. She's worried her presence might disturb workers, she wants to take the old man's photo but doesn't. She seems sort of ho-hum (?)

Remember, conflict is your friend.

I liked the unloading lobsters sentence quite a lot, that's a great image.

Jill Elizabeth said...

I enjoyed the mood of it--the structure of the writing feels a little tense, which seems appropriate.

The opening verb in both the 1st and 2nd paragraphs is "walked" (Cass walked, She walked) and that jumped right out on me, so you may want to vary that.

I liked the transition of when she is worrying about imposing right before the man informs her it's private property; however, seems a bit contradictory he makes a point of letting her know that, but then tells her a moment later that he doesn't mind if she's there, shooting?

Love the ocean, great setting to open with.

nitpicky stuff: i believe that a "few days' worth of beard" needs an apostrophe?

Sara Samarasinghe said...

I love all of the imagery! You really paint the picture of being by the sea. Your narrative is so good!! I'm a dialogue-heavy writer, so I really admire the balance here. :)

I've read that it's better not to have a very detailed beat with dialogue, like this: she called back, struggling to keep her voice even. I agree with some of the others that this could be removed, because you convey her fear when she jumps.

Also, the dialogue may be more effective at the beginning of a paragraph, so you could maybe break up that paragraph into two so that the dialogue's at the beginning.

This are little nitpicks, obviously, but you've done a great job!!! Kudos! Would love to read the rest of this! :)

Patty Blount said...

I wanna read more! This is really good.

Since Cass is a photographer, I think the visual descriptions should pop. For example; the line about the hulls told stories in languages she couldn't understand - I'd rewrite this with a "Cass" spin on it. Something like "Cass lifted the camera, closed one eye and focused on the scars etched into the hulls of the boats. To her, those scars were stories and she wanted to capture them, preserve them, even if she didn't yet know what they were."

Agree with the other comments about taking his picture. Something like "Cass's finger hovered over the shutter button as she battled with herself. Would he mind if she snapped his picture?"

I thought it was a great beginning.

Sarah W said...

I think this is a good opening. For me, the few passive sentences reflect the uncertainty of the character--and she's an observer here as well. I would definitely read on!

I like the introduction of the male lead (I hope--tall, dark and gruff is exactly my type) so early on. That keeps the passage from being too static (again, IMO).

Five hundred words isn't a lot from a reader's perspective, but you've introduced two characters and a nice, visual passage. I think outer conflict (if her nervousness is inner conflict) can wait for the next 500!

And for what's it's worth, I vote for "Underneath the beard" :)

S. Kyle Davis said...

This is VERY well-written prose. I enjoyed the language of the excerpt. Everything flowed very well, and it read like something from an experienced author. However, as Chuck H said, I couldn't tell what was remarkable about it. I definitely got the feeling of the book, but there was no distinct hook that made me really care. I'm sure it follows at some point, but as a general rule, it's good to put a hint of the good stuff right up front. Like I say, it is very well written, so I have no doubt the premise is just as well-written. I just want to see it faster!

Kate said...

I liked this a lot and agree with many of the critiques already given. A few cliches could be easily trimmed. The dialogue could be a little tighter.

I agree that the "language she couldn't understand" line threw me. I think you can convey the same idea, that she doesn't belong there, in a way that's more meaningful and specific.

I don't know he'd bother mentioning the private property issue if he doesn't care what she does. Especially if he's a 'man of few words.'

Other than that, I'm digging Cass's awkwardness and uncertainty. I'm getting a rough, loner, private-type vibe from the bearded one. Maybe that's been done before but who cares. They never get old. I think you're conveying a lot about your characters in a short space. I'd keep reading and I'm not a romance/women's fic reader.

Great job!

swampfox said...

Hooray. Finally a page that's not written in first person. This excerpt sounded like something I might have written. Great job!!

Ishta Mercurio said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ishta Mercurio said...

Congrats Cameron! And thanks for putting your work out there.

I want to start by saying that this flows nicely, and reads as if you've gone through it a few times. I like the setting, and it feels like a good place to start the story. Something is happening, and we meet someone who will probably play a role throughout the book in the bearded man, so we know that this is going to go somewhere. It doesn't feel forced, which is nice.

However, a couple of lines threw me off. I like the line, "Even the rusted boats had a certain rough charm," but when you write, "every mark on their hulls told stories in some language Cass couldn’t understand," I don't believe you, because she is a photographer and photographers speak the language of pictures and images. So, if she's photographing the hulls of the boats, she must understand their "language" at some level. There are some really well-written sections here, and I think that if you really work on it, you can come up with a better way of conveying the mystery/poetry/hidden nature of the boats' stories than the way you have tried to express it here.

I like the way you introduce the man, with him interrupting Cass and then disappearing onto his boat. It leaves us with questions: why did he just disappear, who is he, why doesn't he care if she keeps shooting photos, etc. It's obvious that we're going to see more of him later, so I don't feel that I have to have these answers now, but the questions are there for pondering, which I think is good in this genre. So that part is nicely done.

And then at the end, you get imprecise again when you write that "Something she couldn’t quite put her finger on stopped her from asking." After the last couple of paragraphs, this feels like a cop-out. Don't be afraid to get into Cass' head a bit and find out exactly what it is about this man that stops her from asking to take his picture.

Overall, I thought this was fairly well done, and although this isn't usually my kind of book, your handling of the setting alone was enough to make me curious about the next few pages. Nice job!

John Smith said...

Really great editing. I wish I could do something like that.

Ishta Mercurio said...

Whoa - the first time I tried to post, Blogger told me my comment was too long, so I cut out a paragraph and it posted... And now they're both there?

I'll try to delete the redundant one. If a "comment deleted by author" notice appears, it was my extra post.

j said...

You're need to have SOME comments, Nathan, reminds me of a quote attributed to Arthur Evans:

Nothing, not love, not greed, not passion or hatred, is stronger than a writer's need to change another writer's copy.


John Jack said...

Nicely subtle foreshadowing of impending drama. A calm, slightly complicated opening introduction of Cass the surreptitious photographer before a maelstrom of complications. I think many writers rush introductions.

One feature I like to see in introductions is a rising dilemma. Cass presents as an outsider. The classic stranger comes to town storyline. Oh! what will happen to the stranger? She'll be politely told she's somewhat welcome, somewhat unwelcome by a ruggedly handsome local.

I would like to know soon if not immediately more about Cass' purpose beyond place photography. Why Newfoundland rocky shoreline? Freelancer? Stringer? Correspondent? Vacationer? Divorcée on carthartic sabbatical? Depicting a complication without depicting a purpose seems half a reader rapport expectation realized.

I mean, if she could easily be run off, I don't know she could. Being run off the private property pier is a half artfully posed suspense question--what else will she do--half artfully posed empathy factor, fear, pity, sympathy. Caring about Cass comes from knowing why she's there and doesn't want to leave. Balanced self-serving and self-sacrificing motivations are best.

"Stay and keep shooting if you’d like. Makes no difference to me." That dialogue spoke loudly to me. It contradicts his warning about private property, and says he cared enough about her to warn her, but minimalizes his interference, a noble self-sacrificing gesture. He as much as says, Hi, this is me. Who are you? Satisfied he's introduced himself, he moves on waiting for her to make the next move. Game on.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this! I am wondering what will happen and how it will be different. I wonder why she feels she has to hide behind her camera for safety.

One thing I would like more of is description. I know it has been mentioned here, but one more place I would like to see it is in his physical appearance. Instead of a list of what he is, perhaps something with more depth, detailed description, a reason why you are telling us instead of just because we have to know what he looks like. Something more significant.

Just my opinion though. I do like it and love the setting. Great job!


J. T. Shea said...

More judging a first page like it's a complete story? Complaining about seeming mysteries that may be explained in the next paragraph? This is still a useful exercise, but need I remind everybody of its limitations? And what's with J. T. Shea and the rhetorical questions? Oh right, that's me...

'Nothing, not love, not greed, not passion or hatred, is stronger than a writer's need to change another writer's copy.' Great quote 'j'! Now I must head over to the Bransforums to satisfy that need.

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