Nathan Bransford, Author


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Page Critique Wednesday and the importance of changing up the action


It's been a criminally long time since I've done a page critique and I hope to be doing these on a much more regular basis!

If you would like to nominate your page for a future Page Critique Event, please enter it in this thread in the Forums.

First I'll present the page without comment, then I'll offer my thoughts and a redline. If you choose to offer up your own thoughts, please be exceedingly polite and remember the sandwich rule: Positive, constructive advice, positive.

Random numbers were generated, and thanks to kscollier_mehl, whose page is below:

"The Veil" 
After having just placed Adam’s breakfast on the patio table, Kanakanue stood there staring out over the Pacific. For a brief moment he thought he heard shouting. He brushed it off as a usual sound in the mornings of a seagull’s shrill cry coming from the beach. 
“Will there be anything else for you, Adam?” he asked with a strong Hawaiian accent.  
“No Kanakanui that’s all. Thank you,” Adam said, never lifting his eyes from his laptop. 
Buried deep in his work, he rarely paid attention to his surroundings--even in beautiful Maui. 
“Sir,” Kanakanui said, “I think there is someone struggling in the water.” Holding one hand over his eyes like a shield he squinted, pointed toward the beach, and thought for sure he saw a person thrashing between the waves. The whitecaps rolled ashore with a roar. 
Adam glanced up briefly from his work, and scanned the waves. He stood to get a better view. Then a chilling sound echoed across the water to the spot they both stood.  
“Help, someone help, please!” The agonized cry of desperation sounded louder this time. 
Adam and Kanakanue looked at one another then darted down the trail to the ocean’s edge. Adam glanced downward at the red water swirling around his ankles. They rushed past several waves to help the man who had been wrestling to swim to shore. As soon as they reached the swimmer, Adam spotted the shark’s dorsal fin as it headed out to sea.

This is definitely a competently written first page. It sets the scene, it's not difficult to place the action, and it doesn't try too hard to grab the reader by the throat, which is very appreciated. There are some turns of phrase that could perhaps be smoother, but overall I think it reads fine.

My main concern is with the action, which I almost missed.

What's interesting about writing action is that there are many different ways to convey it stylistically. You can do clipped phrases (e.g. "He saw blood. Red everywhere. He ran. The killer was close.) or you could do stream of consciousness (e.g. "He saw blood and there was red everywhere and he ran, heart pounding, sensing the killer was close."), or you can do a mix.

What's most important with action is that you somehow change the pace.

If you're writing a book with spare phrasing, you might consider switching to stream of consciousness with the action (Hemingway does this). If you are more lyrical, you can consider switching to clipped phrasing. With action, something is off. Things have escalated. The best way to convey this is by subtly changing the style.

In this case, the paragraph about the action is told with the same style and tone as Adam staring at his laptop, and I read into it the same level of intensity. I didn't get the sense something really important was happening.

Change up the style and you'll get your reader's heart racing.

Here's my redline:

"The Veil" 
After having just Kanakanue placed Adam’s breakfast on the patio table, Kanakanue and stood there staring stared out over the Pacific. For a brief moment he thought he heard shouting. H, but he brushed it off as a usual morning sound in the mornings of. A seagull’s shrill cry coming from the beach. 
“Will there be anything else for you, Adam?” he asked with a strong Hawaiian accent.  
“No Kanakanui that’s all. Thank you,.” Adam said, never lifted his eyes from his laptop. 
Buried deep in his work, he rarely paid attention to his surroundings--even in beautiful Maui. 
“Sir,” Kanakanui said, “I think there is someone struggling in the water.” Holding one hand over his eyes like a shield he squinted, pointed toward the beach, and thought for sure he saw a person thrashing between the waves. The whitecaps rolled ashore with a roar. 
Adam glanced up briefly from his work, and scanned the waves. He stood to get a better view. Then a chilling sound echoed across the water to the spot they both stood.  
“Help, someone help, please!” The agonized cry of desperation sounded louder this time. 
Adam and Kanakanue looked at one another then darted down the trail to the ocean’s edge. [This is a big gap from the trail to staring down at red water -- needs more description] Adam glanced downward at the red water swirling around his ankles. They rushed past several waves [Can you really "rush past" waves?] to help the man who had been wrestling to swim to shore. As soon as they reached the swimmer him, Adam spotted the shark’s dorsal fin as it headed out to sea.

Thanks again, kscollier_mehl!

Art: Porträt des Erasmus von Rotterdam by Hans Holbein the Younger






7 comments:

Kathy Otten said...

I like it. :) I agree with all the comments. The only additional tweak I might make is to divide the sentence at the end of the last paragraph. Adam glanced downward at the red water swirling around his ankles. Just Adam glanced down. Then the rest of the sentence except I'd probably find to shift the prepositional phrase from the end of the sentence and used the stronger word red to end it. Then include a visceral reaction to seeing red water and then his decision to rush into the water. Otherwise, it's good. I knew from the first sentence where we were without being told. We have a nice glimpse of the personalities of both characters and the story jumps right into the action. :)

Dick Margulis said...

Just a proofreading nit to add: We have two instances of Kanakanue and one of Kanakanui. If the spelling in Hawaiian changes depending on whether the person is being addressed directly or described in the third person, then this inconsistency may be perfectly fine. Otherwise, I assume it's a typo.

tracikrites said...

I'd also leave off the part about the Hawaiian accent. Kanakanui wouldn't think about speaking with one, that is, it wouldn't be something that caught his attention. He'd already know. Also, the writer might want to think about focusing on one vp character. It's a bit confusing with both him and Adam's thoughts.

Maya Prasad said...

I liked your advice on writing action. I always hear the clipped phrases advice, but I tend to go with the stream of consciousness route. Strangely, I hadn't really thought about why because it just felt more natural to me. Your explanation that separating it from the rest of your prose makes sense. Hopefully, I won't second-guess myself as much now!

wendy said...

I thought this piece evoked a solid sense of place while using few words to do so.There were a few places where the word use could be tightened even further. I agree with Nathan's comments that more description/reaction from characters before reaching the man in the water would bring the reader into the story more.

Interesting comments about writing action and changing the pace.

thewriteedge said...

I have a few things to add, if it's okay. These things stood out right away to me, and I've edited accordingly:

“No, Kanakanui, that’s all. Thank you.” Adam didn't lift his eyes from his laptop. Even beautiful Maui couldn't distract him from his work. [Something about using the word "never" in describing Adam's devotion to his computer sounds odd to me.]

“Sir,” Kanakanui said, “I think there is someone struggling in the water.” Holding one hand over his eyes like a shield he squinted, pointed toward the beach, and thought for sure he saw a person thrashing between the waves. The whitecaps rolled ashore with a roar. [I agree with the comment by tracikrites: one POV character is better.]

Adam glanced up [a glance is supposed to be brief, so saying he did it briefly is redundant] and scanned the waves. He stood to get a better view.

With Nathan's edits, I really want to know what happened to the person in the water. Sounds like the start of a great story!

Neil Larkins said...

Good story with a good start. I agree with the suggested changes. Switching from action to stream of consciousness and back is something I've done with my stories for some years now. I thought I was pretty good at the process until I tried writing a memoir. Laying out a story that you can make up as you go along is one thing. Relating what actually happened and how you were thinking at the time, is another. That's why I put this memoir off for some twenty years. I finally waded into it last year and brother has it been a challenge. But it's training which when learned can be applied to fiction. Great stuff, Nathan. Keep it up.

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