Nathan Bransford, Author


Monday, July 26, 2010

Page Critique Monday

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 (and be sure and check out the directions in the first post).
- 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 347 posts in the thread, and the number that the good machine at random.org gave me was..........

10!

Congrats to darylsedore, whose page is below.

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


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?
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. She didn’t know was happening then. But now, she followed her notebook details exactly as they were written. Sarah didn’t question the cryptic words. Fear played a role, but confidence won.

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. 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, calming the nerves.

Vehicles crossing the bridge above 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 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.






34 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow I love this!

I was hooked.

Only change I would make is this:

"The ground she inhabited angled toward a small river at forty-five degrees. It was hard cement."

I think that could be a little smoother and simpler.

Great opening. Good work. Thanks for sharing!

IsaiahC said...

I really enjoyed the premise, especially the notebook with instructions.

I wonder if you could dial the voice back a little, make it seem more natural, less formal. And watch some grammar issues.

Other than that, I really like this one.

Anonymous said...

This is a really interesting effort, thanks for posting it.

I thought there were some good things in it, but be careful of the language...some of the phrasing seemed a bit awkward and made it hard to imagine what was going on (like "massaging" stray hairs...is that really what she's doing?)

I really like the ending. Very intriguing and sets up a lot of suspense. Nice job.

Jamie said...

I really like the premise and I'm intrigued to see what happens. I want to know more.

The only things that jumped out at me were (as mentioned above) the "massaging" of stray hairs; the fact that she rips out her own hair but wants a pillow for hanging around under a bridge; and the "Vehicles crossing the bridge above came to her." Do you mean "Sounds of the vehicles...?" I think I know what you mean, but it seems as if it's oddly placed. Almost like cars are diving off the bridge at her.

Otherwise, very good effort.

Thank you for sharing :)

Jill Elizabeth said...

Positives: Interesting premise, and I really like the name of the bridge. It's not something generic like "Walker's Bridge"

There are a few areas I think you could work on. Some of the language/verb choices are a bit ambiguous.
"hover under a bridge" (at first I pictured her levitating)

"ground she inhabited" (I don't think this is an appropriate verb choice for your intended meaning)

"vehicles crossing the bridge came to her" (I'm unclear what this means--they pass over her head? Or the sound of them reaches her ears? I think you can go ahead and be more direct here)

Also, on a very subjective note, I think the opening paragraph would pack more punch of you only kept the first question. And then let the context that follows explain how the person living or dying is dependent on the MC.

Thank you so much for sharing!

Reena Jacobs said...

I read this wishing there were a little more to go on. So little happened, I couldn’t really get a fix where the excerpt was leading, but I guess that’s how it is with only 250 words to work with.

This piece could use a bit of proofreading. I noticed a few issues with tense (“Would she be able to save whomever it is she’s supposed to save?” Should be in past tense. and “This was the fifth one she chose to act on.” Should be she’d chosen.) as well as sentences with missing words (“She didn’t know was happening then.”)

There were a few sentences I didn’t quite understand, but I think different word choices might make the meaning a bit clearer. For instance “Vehicles crossing the bridge above came to her.” If taken literally, this says that there are vehicles on a bridge above her which are coming down to her. I wonder if it’s meant to say something along the lines that vehicles crossed the bridge overhead. Another sentence. “She made a mental note that the next tie she had to hover under a bridge waiting for whatever was supposed to happen she would bring a pillow to sit on.” Literally, this means she’s under a bridge floating. But I know from earlier she’s lying on hard cement firmly planted on the ground.

I’ll be honest. It’s probably been a decade since I’d read a thriller. However, I can’t help but wonder if your excerpt would benefit from using deep POV techniques. One tip would be to eliminate phrases like “she knew” and “she made a mental note” and just state what’s happening. For instance, “She made a mental note that the next time she had…” just put “The next time she had…”

Last thing, I wasn’t sure if she’d received messages or premonitions. To me a message is different than a premonition, so it threw me off a bit. Like I mentioned above, it would nice to read more. 250 gave enough to tease but not quite enough to pull me in. Thanks for being the brave soul to offer your work up for critique.

Reena Jacobs said...
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Reena Jacobs said...
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Reena Jacobs said...
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Reena Jacobs said...

Sorry about the extra posts. I received an error, but when I checked all of them were there.

Chuck H. said...

Pretty much what they all said. I'm intrigued and I love the last bit "Bring hammer."

swampfox said...

I like the prose, though the opening question has an answer. People die everyday. You might have specified "here" or something like that.

"Tugged" out her hairs? I'd suggest "yanked" or "plucked."

Vehicles crossing the bridge above "came" to her? IMO, "came" doesn't fit.

Repeating the word "message(s)" three times near the end of the passage seemed awkward.

But these are easy fixes. The structure of the writing is really good. I'm sure Nathan will provide more help. Overall, I think you did a great job.

D.G. Hudson said...

This entry kept me reading, and definitely sounds interesting. I just found the paragraph about pulling out the stray hairs disconcerting -- were there ONLY a few stray hairs left? The reason for her to do this seems only vaguely related to the result of subduing her nerves. Perhaps re-writing or some explanation of why she did this might help (a stress-reducer?)AND is she a super-hero or another Angelina Jolie spy-type?

I like the story, and it's a welcome change. I was swept up into the narrative with no problem -- only that one paragraph.

Great work darylsedore, thanks for helping us all learn from Nathan's redline comments.

Anonymous said...

I'm liking the premise too. I think I would cut the first paragraph, though. Start with 10:15 and go from there.

I also agree about the word choice issues that others have pointed out, but other than that well done. I'm interested.

Cheryl said...

I really like the premise. Sounds fun and interesting.

Comments:
Second sentence has tense errors. Should read: Would she be able to save whomever it *was* she *was* supposed to save? Except now you have two wases.

"The first two were neglected. She didn’t know (what) was happening then." I would combine these two. You have two short sentences before it so this would provide some variation.

"Fear played a role, but confidence won". (fear of what? Of someone dying? Of not being able to do anything about it? Of putting her own life in danger? How does the confidence fit in?

"She massaged them until they were firmly in the grip of her fingers." Sounds odd to me, I picture more of a twisting around the fingers motion in order to get a grip.

"Vehicles crossing the bridge above came to her" If she's under the bridge, how does she see them coming?

"The ground she inhabited angled..." Inhabited seems another odd choice of words.

"...she would bring a pillow to sit on" If she has the exact time she needs to be there, I would think that she wouldn't be there sitting long enough to want to carry around a pillow.

"Sit directly in the middle, under the St. Elizabeth Bridge. At 10:18am. Bring hammer." Nice. The only question that I have with this is: Is this how the message was actually presented to her or is this her notes of what the message means? It reads to me like it was presented to her exactly like this, which seems strange. (small nit, you could probably drop the "At" part of "At 10:18)

Overall, I think it's very intriguing and has good elements. I like the build up. I think it can keep people reading for what happens next.

Emily White said...

I love the message at the end. At first I thought she was having visions, but then you added this whole new twist with someone actually telling her what to do.

The only critique I have is to watch your tenses. A few other people already pointed out where you combined present and past. And some of your descriptions were a little confusing--hovering rather than sitting, cars coming to her when she's under a bridge, etc.

I see you've got a great story here and I'd probably keep reading. :)

M said...

In addition to the comments about grammar and awkward phrasing that the others have made, this really reminded me of the film Minority Report, to the point where it was distracting. I know there's no such thing as an original idea, so to say, but everything from Precog to the basic premise has me wondering if the author was deeply inspired by that film. And if so, the main question I would have is, how does the author intend on making the premise different enough to stand on its own, rather than be a constant reminder of another story?

Daryl Sedore said...

I really appreciate the comments so far. You're all great and a huge help! I'll only add that my protagonist is a puller. She has pulled out all of her eyebrow hair, most of her forearm hair and a large portion of the hair on her head. It's called trichotillomania and it affects 2-3% of North Americans. The messages are premonitions: she's an Automatic Writer, receiving these messages through her pen while in a blackout.

Hope that helps in understanding where the story goes in the next few pages.

Daryl Sedore said...

Nathan Bransford: I thank you for giving back to writers. For taking the time to do this and for allowing new writers the chance for a critique. Thank you.

Thomas Taylor said...

Would it hurt to allow slightly longer extracts? 250 words is very little to go on.

Anonymous said...

This sentence is extremely worrying: "She didn’t know was happening then."

I'm not sure what that means?

Is there a 'what' missing in there? Should the sentence read: "She didn't know what was happening then."

Finding somebody to proof-read your work is obviously beneficial, but it's also a lot easier said than done. Most times when I give my work to people, they never even bother to give it back, let alone read it.

In the end, I think you just have to learn to proofread your own work.

A trick I heard about is to run your text through one of those voice communication programs - that way you'll actually hear somebody else reading your work. Part of the problem is that we become so familiar with our own work that we stop reading it - we think we're reading it, but really we're not.

Eric W. Trant said...

Daryl: It's a short excerpt, so it has to be BOOM, to the point, but your follow-on about her being a bald-headed, bald-armed, no-browed "puller" is cool as fark, man.

I sure hope you made that point clear early on, like in the first 1k wds, because it's weird stuff like that which keeps me reading.

- Eric

Leah Petersen said...

I love what's happening, this sounds really interesting. And that last sentence rocks.

But besides the specific word choice issues others are pointing out, I'd say overall the odd word choices gave it a trying-too-hard feel. The focus was on the words, not what they were trying to say.

I felt like I wasn't reading about what was happening, I was reading you writing what was happening.

Some good editing should help that. Usually, simpler, clearer verbiage is what you want to build an intense atmosphere/mood.

Good luck with it, I'd love to know what happens!

The Red Angel said...

That last short paragraph definitely made me want to read further! I love the ambiguity of it all, yet at the same time it's not so ambiguous that it was confusing.
Sounds like Sarah Roberts is an impulsive hair-puller; great trait to give to a character, especially one that easily got nervous or anxious like this one.
I think I found a few minor grammatical errors, particularly ones that deal with tense, but other than that it was a great read!

~TRA

http://xtheredangelx.blogspot.com

The Red Angel said...

That last short paragraph definitely made me want to read further! I love the ambiguity of it all, yet at the same time it's not so ambiguous that it was confusing.
Sounds like Sarah Roberts is an impulsive hair-puller; great trait to give to a character, especially one that easily got nervous or anxious like this one.
I think I found a few minor grammatical errors, particularly ones that deal with tense, but other than that it was a great read!

~TRA

http://xtheredangelx.blogspot.com

Phyllis said...

The premise is very intriguing. It reminds me of “Minority Report.” I have some issues with the prose, though.

Would someone die today? Would she be able to save whomever it is she’s supposed to save?
I'm not happy with “someone” and “whomever it is.” Both expressions are vague and – in combination – repetitive. Could you reword and make it one question?

Sarah Roberts looked at her watch again.

10:15am.

I'm not fond of these single sentence paragraphs. I'd put all of the above in one paragraph, and link the following sentence with the next para.

Three minutes until the premonition came true.
There's a problem with tense here. I think it should be “until the premonition would come true.” But I would also consider rewording the sentence so it ends with “premonition.” In the following paragraph the premonitions are only referred to with pronouns, and I'd like to make the connection between noun and pronoun as tight as possible.


This was the fifth one she chose to act on. She’d had seven in the last six months. The first two were neglected. She didn’t know was happening then.
I'm having trouble with the timeline. The first sentence refers to the present. The second one deal with the whole time span, and the last two go back to the beginning. I wonder if you should reorder the sentences. (And I don't like “neglected,” I think you mean “ignored” or “not realized for what they were.”)

But now, she followed her notebook details exactly as they were written. Sarah didn’t question the cryptic words. Fear played a role, but confidence won.
I'm not happy with the fear/confidence sentence. You give some insight into her emotional state, but it's more told than shown. Also, with “but” you take back what you said in the first part and that diminishes the effect. I'd either cut this sentence or expand it, giving some backstory that shows us something that merits the 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. 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, calming the nerves.
I think the verbs could be more precise. I don't massage my hairs. I might twirl them. And does pain ooze? Does it ooze over something? I highlighted “leaned” because I can't quite picture Sarah. Is she lying or sitting somewhere? Maybe, you could make it more precise with telling us what the “cement” is? A floor, a wall, a pillar, a pylon?

Vehicles crossing the bridge above 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 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.
Again, the verbs could be more precise. I wonder why the vehicles are described approaching, but not disappearing. The verb implies, too, that the cars go under the bridge, and that diffuses the image. I don't think, Sarah hovers under the bridge, maybe she cowers, or hunkers down. “Inhabited” implies that she lives on that ground, so you should reword here, too.

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.
I'm not fond of reciting the message in her head. I'd just put a colon after “precision” and quote the message. I'll get it then.

As I said, I really like the premise, and with a bit of work this is going to be a great story.

Joe G said...

I think the premise is interesting, but I felt very thrown into the story. I wish I had a little more context.

RBSHoo said...

I liked the premise, and I thought dropping the reader into the action the way you did was better than trying to spend time setting up the scene. Sort of a cinematic feel.

I agree that the paragraph starting with "Vehicles crossing the bridge" needs some work. It's a tad clumsy and really breaks up the flow -- which is too bad, because the last paragraph is pretty good and would keep me reading.

Jill Elizabeth said...

Daryl--I would disagree with M that this so similar to Minority Report that it is distracting, but I think the term "Precog" immediately jumps the reader's mind to that movie/PKD short story. Maybe would consider a title change to avoid the immediate comparisons.

Anonymous said...

Great hook, great idea.

But then you swerve into backstory. Do we need to know right now how many times this has happened before and how long it took her to act on it?

You've hooked us, now keep the momentum going. The backstory can come later, if at all.

elancross said...

Daryl,

I'm with Jill Elizabeth. This excerpt wouldn't have reminded me of 'Minority Report' if the title weren't 'Precog'. Unfortunately though, as soon as I read that title, the movie jumped into my head and then I kept noticing similarities between the two stories.
These 250 words are really sticky though:) Sucked me right in. Good work!

elizajane said...

Wonderful premise; I would want to go forward with this book.
I feel as if you give too much away at the beginning. I want a little bit of disorientation before I realize what's happening with the premonitions. Also, cut extraneous words in everything you do, because you seem to have a tendency to use more than you need and especially in a story like you're working on, less is better.

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.

Anonymous said...

Hello,

I agree with Nathan and I like your details. However, I might restructure the whole page and begin with the sentence "Thinking..." then go to the sentence with the premonition happens in three minutes and the time--think that was the sentence. Then add the details about the cement and the hammer, but try not to be passive. Sounds like you have something good to work with!

CB ICE

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