Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Page Critique: Let actions speak for themselves


Page critique Tuesday!

If you would like to nominate your page for a future Page Critique Event, please enter it in this thread in the Forums. Also, I'm offering personal consultations and edits if you're interested in that.

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 XXX, whose page is below:
Gone, Kitty, Gone: A Brock Rockster Mystery 
Middle-grade mystery/comedy
I smashed my steel-toed loafer through the front door and tumbled in, where I landed face-first on the floor of the large, dark foyer.
“Worst! Day! Ever!” I yelled. I knew everyone in the house was sleeping, but I didn’t care. I was upset, and with good reason.
“Carver!” I picked myself off the ground. “Carver! We need to talk!”
My perfect record had been shattered. When I woke up this morning I had been Brock Rockster, The Boy Who Always Got His Man, the twelve-year-old mustache prodigy and world’s greatest private investigator to the stars. I was untouchable, unstoppable, and undefeated – but not anymore. After today’s calamity, I didn’t know what I was.
I saw a room dimly lit off to the right and stomped toward it, each step echoing through the otherwise silent house. A reading lamp glowed in the room’s far corner over the head of Carver McCarver, who sat at her desk surrounded by stacks of papers and folders.
“Hello, pard,” she said. She finished reading the sheet in front of her before looking up. “Find Mr. Janston’s statue?”
“Janston got his weird little sculpture back just fine, Carver, but it wasn’t me that found it,” I said.
I took my fedora hat off, and Carver tipped her Stetson back in response. Carver was well over ninety years old, but had the energy of someone a third her age, and the wisdom of someone who’d seen the pyramids built.
This is an extremely solid, nay, excellent, nay, nearly flawless first page. The voice is strong, there's some solid wit and humor, the concept is fun, and I enjoyed the descriptions. Very very well done and I want to read more.

I'm going to pick two nits here. The first is a very common mistake, which is over-telling emotion. After Brock stumbles in and yells, "“Worst! Day! Ever!” and notes that he doesn't care if he wakes everyone up, it's a bit redundant to then say, "I was upset, and with good reason." It's already apparent.

People often say show-don't-tell, and this is one of those classic cases. Show emotion, don't say what the emotion is. People will get it.

Secondly, people don't generally say each other's names in the middle of a sentence, and it can sometimes break up the flow to include it. I'd remove "Carver" from the second to last paragraph.

But seriously, those are two arguable small changes that are arguable. This is in very good shape. My redline:

Gone, Kitty, Gone: A Brock Rockster Mystery 
Middle-grade mystery/comedy
I smashed my steel-toed loafer through the front door and tumbled in, where I landed face-first on the floor of the large, dark foyer.
“Worst! Day! Ever!” I yelled. I knew everyone in the house was sleeping, but I didn’t care. I had a good reason to be upset.
“Carver!” I picked myself off the ground. “Carver! We need to talk!”
My perfect record had been shattered. When I woke up this morning I had been Brock Rockster, The Boy Who Always Got His Man, the twelve-year-old mustache prodigy and world’s greatest private investigator to the stars. I was untouchable, unstoppable, and undefeated – but not anymore. After today’s calamity, I didn’t know what I was.
I saw a room dimly lit off to the right and stomped toward it, each step echoing through the otherwise silent house. A reading lamp glowed in the room’s far corner over the head of Carver McCarver, who sat at her desk surrounded by stacks of papers and folders.
“Hello, pard,” she said. She finished reading the sheet in front of her before looking up. “Find Mr. Janston’s statue?”
“Janston got his weird little sculpture back just fine, Carver, but it wasn’t me that found it,” I said.
I took my fedora hat off, and Carver tipped her Stetson back in response. Carver was well over ninety years old, but had the energy of someone a third her age, and the wisdom of someone who’d seen the pyramids built.
Nice work!

Art: Sherlock Holmes by Frederic Dorr Steele






10 comments:

stacylsteele said...

A laugh escapes me when I think about the last time we went to a barbeque place outside of London.
“What are you laughing about over there?”
“Do you remember that eating contest that summer? You won that ridiculous t-shirt with the pig on the front?”
“Yes, I do.” He laughs, then stopping to glance at me. “Hey, what do you mean ridiculous? That’s my favorite shirt. I almost wore it tonight.” He grins. “Why Ms. James, do you have a problem with my t-shirt?”
“Why would I have a problem with it? Here, I thought a monetary prize, or a free dinner at least was at stake. You came back to the table with that t-shirt thinking it was the best thing in the world.”
I'm lost remembering how immediately Tom had to wear it. He slipped it on over his sweater, looking down at himself beaming.
“Are you laughing at me?”
“Why of course Mr. Murphy, don’t all women laugh at you?”
I smile looking over to him and see that he’s gone someplace else. His mood shifts as he stares out at the road.

Anonymous said...

Great job with this! I just wanted to point out a grammar error you missed. Instead of "...but it wasn’t me that found it." it should be "...but it wasn't me who found it." Otherwise, I loved it!

abc said...

I love the 90 plus year old assistant, Carver McCarver!

tonyl said...

@anon that vs who: I think I’d agree in narration, but in dialog, it’s likely that’s exactly what the speaker would say.
We no always speaka da King’s English, hear?
My $0.02, no more.

Laura Valeri said...

It's a lot of fun, but I personally don't like so many exclamation points! Oh no! I'm so mad! About exclamation points! To me, it's another show don't tell issue. The dialog should be good enough that I can hear the exclamation without it being there. Also, there's an echo with the word "someone" appearing twice in the last paragraph for redundancy. Definitely a nit pick, but agents are nit picks, I've been told. I have to say it's hard to picture a 12 year old with a mustache, quite, but it was funny. I laughed. Good piece. Good pace. Interesting characters. Very promising.

Nathan Bransford said...

Yeah, I agree with tonyl - when it comes to dialogue I'm willing to forego some grammatical correctness if it sounds like what the character would say.

adan said...

I liked the initial version fine. I took the "telling" of the emotion as a humorous interior thought echo. A 12 year old letting himself become conscious of his overt behavior.

I also liked the name in the dialog and took it as a gentle affectionate jab across the decades.

And I liked the double use of "someone" as a rhetorical device.

It's probably just me, with a theatre background, I tend to try to read into what the writer may have meant, then, as a reader (actor) make it my own.

Anonymous said...

@tonyl and @nathan
Ok, good point. If it was used intentionally, then I get it. A lot of people use "that" instead of "who" without knowing it's incorrect. ;)

Susie said...

nicely written! I was slightly thrown by this line: "I saw a room dimly lit off to the right and stomped toward it, each step echoing through the otherwise silent house." To me, this sounds like he has never been to the house before, but then it seems like he is pretty familiar with the house after all. Perhaps this will be more clear soon, though. great job

Jason Bougger said...

Nathan, your quote form this post ("Show emotion, don't say what the emotion is. People will get it.") is the best way I've ever seen "Show, don't tell" described. I'll keep that in mind as I work on my current revision.

Thanks for all the useful information here.

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