Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Page Critique Tuesday: Anchor the reader


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

Also, if you'd like to test your editing chops, keep your eye on this area! I'll post the pages and queries a few days before a page critique so you can see how your redline compares to mine.

Now then. Time for the Page Critique. First I'll present the page without comment, then I'll offer my thoughts and a redline. If you choose to offer your own thoughts on the page, please be polite. We aim to be positive and helpful.

Random numbers were generated, and thanks to RKeelan, whose page is below:
Title: Immortal
Genre: Fantasy

"The fate of all Creation pivots about certain moments in time and space. One such moment approaches. It is yet distant to you, but to me it is perilously close. I have devised a plan—a grand plan—to employ this moment. You, Nathaniel, shall be my instrument."
It was a woman's voice, husky and low, a dangerous voice that invited confidence and blotted out doubt.
"And why would I do that?"
I spoke aloud—unnecessary, as the voice was only in my head, but speaking was easier than not. I'd heard her—Celeste—ever since a traumatic incident in my past which I preferred not to dwell on.
"You are my most trusted servant and dearest friend, Nathaniel," she said. "Contemplating personal benefit at a time like this is crass and unseemly, but in consideration of your service I shall grant you wealth and power beyond—"
"Pass."
"Pass?" The voice sounded closer now, standing right next to me. "On wealth and power?"
"I am content as I am."
"You are a slave."
"In the eyes of little men I am a slave. By my own reckoning I am—"
"Bloody Ancestors, Nathan, are you talking to yourself again?" That was Darius. He was real. "You know I hate that."
"I apologize, master. I didn’t realize you were here."
Darius, a bald head on a round torso with no neck in between, stood in the doorway, frowning at me. The folds of his toga hung about him less than
There are some good ingredients in this first page. I like how the ominous voice in Nathaniel/Nathan's head contrasts with the breeziness of his voice (also um are you trying to tell me something), and I liked the physical description of Darius as a bald head on a round torso.

Still, I had a few concerns with the opening. It's so so important to anchor the reader to ease them into the story, and there are two elements here that I think interfered with said anchoring and left me a little unmoored.

First, the opening paragraph of dialogue felt a little overstuffed, and it took a little too long for me to figure out what was going on. I wasn't sure what was gained by waiting for more dialogue to reveal who Celeste was, since the narrator already knew.

Second, I worry this page relies too much on dialogue and doesn't do enough to anchor us in a physical space. We don't need endless detail, but anything you can do to help us imagine the character in a particular place will reduce the amount of work we have to do to figure out what's going on.

Imagine the reader as if they're waking up in a dark room and you, the author, are steadily adding detail to help them see what's around them. If all they hear are voices they're still in the dark.

That said, because there's some good stuff here it wasn't too hard to streamline and round this into shape. With a bit more detail I think the reader will be intrigued to know what happens next.

Here's my redline:
Title: Immortal
Genre: Fantasy

"The fate of all creation pivots about certain moments in time and space. One such moment approaches. It is yet distant to you, but to me it is perilously close. I have devised a plan—a grand plan—to employ this moment. You, Nathaniel, shall be my instrument."
It was a woman's voice, husky and low, a dangerous voice that invited confidence and blotted out doubt. I'd heard her—Celeste—ever since a traumatic incident in my past, which I preferred not to dwell on. [More grounding detail would be helpful here or after the next line to anchor the reader. Where is Nathaniel?]
"And why would I do that?"
I spoke aloud—unnecessary, as the voice was only in my head, but speaking was easier than not. I'd heard her—Celeste—ever since a traumatic incident in my past which I preferred not to dwell on.
"You are my most trusted servant and dearest friend., Nathaniel," she said. "Contemplating personal benefit at a time like this is crass and unseemly, but in consideration of your service I shall grant you wealth and power beyond—"
"Pass."
"Pass?" The voice sounded closer now, standing right next to me. "On wealth and power?"
"I am content as I am."
"You are a slave."
"In the eyes of little men I am a slave. By my own reckoning I am—"
"Bloody Ancestors, Nathan, are you talking to yourself again?" That was Darius. He was real [I like the frankness of this line, shows personality]. "You know I hate that."
"I apologize, master. I didn’t realize you were here."
Darius, a bald head on a round torso with no neck in between, stood in the doorway, frowning at me. The folds of his toga hung about him less than
I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.

Art: Aldus Manutius' printer's device






4 comments:

RKeelan said...

Looks like I'm the lucky first page. Thank you, Nathan (what a great name!) for doing this.

I've been thinking for a while that the first line was a bit heavy—it's nice to have confirmation of that, plus a fix for it.

Tragically, my first description of the setting comes at the very top of the second page: The folds of his toga hung about him less than gracefully, and they were already showing sweat stains from the kitchen's stifling heat. He coughed and waved a hand in front of his face, trying to disperse the smoky haze that accumulated whenever the oven was in use.

I checked the archive and found at least one earlier post where the critiquee asked a question, so at the risk of committing a gross faux pas, I'd like to ask one too.

In Celeste's second line of dialogue, you removed Nathaniel's name and the dialogue tag. I understand why you took out 'Nathaniel' (Celeste has already said his name in her first line of dialogue), but why did you take out the tag?

I ask because I often insert a dialogue tag after the first clause or sentence of a multi-line dialogue, and if that's a no-no I'm going to have to run out and buy more red pens...

Thanks again,
R

Nathan Bransford said...

Thanks for volunteering!

Yes, I removed the second "Nathaniel" because it's very rare for people to say each other's name when speaking, twice feels like overkill. On second thought it probably was a mistake for me to remove the dialogue tag -- I thought it was clear she was speaking from the tone, but it may be worth leaving in for clarity since it follows a line without a tag.

There's no hard and fast rule, though. It's more about what's needed for clarity.

JOHN T. SHEA said...

I note nobody posted their own edit. I was going to but I could not find anything to criticize, which is a little disconcerting! Nathan's questions are quite reasonable, but could very well be answered on the next page (one is!) which shows the limitations of reading a first page in such isolation, something nobody does normally, without a cover blurb and the rest of the book a page turn away. If the author added the answers to the first page he/she would have to move remove something else from the first page to make room, possibly raising more questions.

But there is an argument against what I say above. I call it the 'Suspension of Foreknowledge', the way we pretend we don't know something we do know so as to enjoy a story more. A classic movie example is the first 'JURASSIC PARK' movie, where we spend the first half of the movie pretending we don't know it's all about dinosaurs, until we see the first one and share in the onscreen characters amazement somewhat.

The names are interesting. Nathaniel is Jewish, Darius Persian and Celeste sounds Latin. Toga suggests ancient Rome, which would be my guess. Both Roma and Persia had large Jewish populations.

Thanks to Rkeelan and Nathan!

RKeelan said...

John T. Shea—

Nathan lives in a pseudo-Roman empire. I did make an effort to give characters suitably Classical names, but Nathan wasn't one of them. He actually predates the novel's setting. It's just good luck that his name plausibly fits within it.

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